Saturday 23rd May 2020 44th day of Omer 29th Iyyar 5780
PARASHAT BAMIDBAR Herschel
Numbers 1:1 – 4:20; 1 Samuel 20:18 – 42; Matthew 4:1 - 17
Jewish tradition says the “four standards” under which Israel encamped in the wilderness,
to the east, Judah - a lion
to the north, Dan - an eagle
to the west, Ephraim - an ox
to the south, Reuben - a man
The Jewish writers tell us, that the standard of each tribe of Israel took the colour of the stone which represented it in the high priest’s breastplate.
Jerome Prado, in his commentary upon Ezekiel (Ezekiel Eze. 1:1 p. 44), gives the following minute description according to rabbinical tradition:
“The different leaders of the tribes had their own standards, with the crests of their ancestors depicted upon them. On the east, above the tent of Naasson the first-born of Judah, there shone a standard of a green colour, this colour having been adopted by him because it was in a green stone, viz., an emerald, that the name of his forefather Judah was engraved on the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. Ex. 25:15ff.), and on this standard there was depicted a lion, the crest and hieroglyphic of his ancestor Judah, whom Jacob had compared to a lion, saying, ‘Judah is a lion’s whelp.’
Towards the south, above the tent of Elisur the son of Reuben, there floated a red standard, having the colour of the sardus, on which the name of his father, viz., Reuben, was engraved upon the breastplate of the high priest. The symbol depicted upon this standard was a human head, because Reuben was the first-born, and head of the family.
On the west, above the tent of Elishamah the son of Ephraim, there was a golden flag, on which the head of a calf was depicted, because it was through the vision of the calves or oxen that his ancestor Joseph had predicted and provided for the famine in Egypt (Gen. Gen. 41:1); and hence Moses, when blessing the tribe of Joseph, i.e., Ephraim (Deu. Deu. 33:17), said, ‘his glory is that of the first-born of a bull.’
The golden splendour of the standard of Ephraim resembled that of the chrysolite, in which the name of Ephraim was engraved upon the breastplate. Towards the north, above the tent of Ahiezer the son of Dan, there floated a motley standard of white and red, like the jaspis (or, as some say, a carbuncle), in which the name of Dan was engraved upon the breastplate. The crest upon this was an eagle, the great doe to serpents, which had been chosen by the leader in the place of a serpent, because his forefather Jacob had compared Dan to a serpent, saying, ‘Dan is a serpent in the way, an adder (cerastes, a horned snake) in the path;’ but Ahiezer substituted the eagle, the destroyer of serpents as he shrank from carrying an adder upon his flag.”15
the tribes were positioned on each of the 4 cardinal points around the Mishkan
2. then Moses and Aaron and his sons are positioned facing east toward the rising sun
3. then, Levi’s sons are carefully positioned around the Tabernacle so that they formed an inner protective ring between the people and the
Scripture informs us that the earthly patterns given by God are often a shadow of a greater heavenly reality (Col. Col. 2:17; Heb. Heb. 8:5; Heb. 9:8, Heb. 9:23; Heb. 10:1; Rev. Rev. 15:5+).
So it is not a great surprise when we find similarities between Israel’s encampment in the wilderness around the Tabernacle of meeting and the heavenly realm surrounding God’s throne.
1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one
seated on the throne.
3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and
around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones
were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns
on their heads.
5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of
thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which
are the seven spirits of God,
6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And
around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full
of eyes in front and behind:
7 the first living creature like a lion Y’hudah - east
the second living creature like an ox Ephraim - west
the third living creature with the face of a man Reuven - south
and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight Dan - north
8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes
all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy,
holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him
who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,
10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne
and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns
before the throne, saying,
11 Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
The camp of the Levites surrounded the Tabernacle with all the other camps set up beyond them. Moses, Aaron & his sons camped to the east, Kohath camped to the south, Gershom camped to the west, and Merari camped to the north. In one way, the location of the Levites around the tabernacle is comparable to the living creatures which surrounded the throne of God while the other camps around the Tabernacle were like the 24 thrones in heaven (Rev. 4:2-8). Incidentally, the 24 thrones in heaven probably correspond to the 24 divisions of the Levitical priests (1 Chron. 24:1-18).
So, the positioning of the tribes around the Mishkan was not haphazard but a deliberate arrangement to safeguard the people. But, safeguard from what?
But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony. (B'midbar/Numbers 1:53; ESV)
The sons of Levi formed an inner barrier that protected the other tribes from the wrath of God bursting out against the Israelites. Why would this be necessary?
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in
In my understanding, the issue here is sin. Sin is terribly destructive and contagious. There comes a moment in time, where a tribe or village crosses a threshold, a point of no return. At that point, they and everything that is theirs, is beyond redemption. It is destined for judgment and destruction! However, gold and silver can be redeemed by fire, and therefore, it could be spared.
We see this principle taught by Rav Sha’ul in Romans 1. Man crossed the threshold of no return and so three times, it says “..and God gave them over …” to follow their own sinful desires:
They became filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents. They are foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree—that those who practice such things deserve death—they not only do them but also approve of others who practice the same.
We cannot separate the mercy of G-d from the wrath of G-d, for they are inseparable. We see Messiah hanging on the execution stake as an act of G-d’s love toward a desperate and tainted humanity. But it was also the act of His wrath being poured out upon the perfect, unblemished Lamb of G-d. Sin must be judged and HaShem cannot tolerate its presence in a people crated in His image and likeness!
“…this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
G-d’s wrath is mentioned nearly 600 times in the Old Testament by some 20 different words and these concepts are also found in the New Testament, though less frequently (e.g., John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 5:9; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10). Yeshua is also said to have wrath (Rev. 6:16-17).
Some people struggle to accept the truth that G-d’s anger is personal, while simultaneously, they have no reservation in accepting the personal love of G-d. Still others will say that a loving God could not get angry, but a loving God is by definition required to be angry at sinners who destroy that which He loves.
The truth is that the Bible speaks of G-d’s anger, wrath, and fury more than it does about His love, grace, and mercy. But, because HaShem is loving, merciful, and kind, He has chosen to save some people – not all! The remnant! Acts 13 has often challenged my understanding of fairness.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.
45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things
spoken by Paul.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said,"It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject
it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.
47 For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal
Not all; only those who were appointed to eternal life!
Furthermore, salvation is defined as deliverance by G-d from His wrath (Rom. 5:9-10). And so, Yeshua averted the wrath of G-d by dying on the execution stake as a substitute for sinners. This fact is explained by the word “propitiation,” which appears four times in the New Testament and is poorly translated by some modern translations as “sacrifice of atonement” and “expiation”.
Romans 3:23-25 – “. . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Messiah Yeshua whom G-d put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show G-d’s righteousness . . .
Hebrews 2:17 - “Therefore He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of G-d, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Lastly, John 3:36 simply says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him."
The scriptures are full of tensions and imponderables because we see through a mirror dimly and understand only in part.
Yes, the Father is merciful, loving, compassionate, forgiving …. But He is simultaneously, the righteous judge (Matthew 25:31-46)