Parashat Mattot begins with a retelling of the journey made from Egypt to the boarder of the promised Land, this descriptions begins in Bamidbar / Numbers 33:1, א אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי-יִשְֹרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְצִבְאֹתָם בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן: 33:1 These are the journeys of the sons of Israel, by which they came out from the land of Egypt by their armies, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. (NASB) The retelling of the journey through the wilderness reminds us of how awesome God is in providing miracles for Israel each day (manna, the bread that descended from heaven). The Lord God provided water for them also in the desert places where there was no natural way to live. The Torah describes this according to Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:5 as “Bread have you not eaten, neither fresh nor aged wine have you drunk.” These things, manna and water, were the kind of miracles that one could see with the eye every day. The Lord God however knew that these miracles would be affected by forgetfulness and denial, the sort of thing that affects all historical events. We see in the pages of the Scriptures the power of God to work in the lives of His people. When the record that was made is destroyed, forgetfulness sets in and a repeat of history begins again. This is one of the reasons it is dangerous to destroy the things of history, the very thing we see going on in the USA today!
Rashi writes in His commentary on Bamidbar / Numbers 33:1 Part 1 mentioning 42 stages during their journey which reminds us of what is written in the Zohar (Bereshit A31.319) where the number 42 is said to be inscribed in Malchut (the Earth) and are combined to form names which then ascended into Binah (knowledge) and then descended into the world. He says when the 42 letters came out, the world was created, they joined Binah (knowledge) and formed the holy names, received Mochin (mind) and Malchut (the Earth) received them and the world was established. The Zohar Bereshit A31.320 states these letters struck the rod of the great serpent, where the great deep arose in darkness, darkness covered everything until light emerged through the darkness. These are events that are connected to the creation of the world being drawn in parallel to the light of the world being revealed by God through the nation of Israel. Rashi explains in the Torah portion Parashat Devarim on verse 1:46 that one might ask based upon the journey from Rismah until Mount Hor there were only nineteen journeys, thus there should have been just forty-one journeys. Rashi however explained that there were forty-two which is the reason the Torah reiterates the details of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. The journey illustrates the innumerable acts of kindness (mercy / grace) performed by the Lord God Almighty for the people even in the midst of their sin. It is a testimony to the gospel message of the Lord God delivering His people by faith, and coming to dwell in their midst! Despite having been decreed death in the desert for the generation that had refused to go up and enter the Land of Canaan, they were not wandering aimlessly for 40 years but were continually under the supervision and blessing of God.
Surveying the rabbinic literature, the rabbis comment upon Bamidbar / Numbers 33:1, א אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי-יִשְֹרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְצִבְאֹתָם בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן: 33:1 These are the journeys of the sons of Israel, by which they came out from the land of Egypt by their armies, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. (NASB) specifically, they say the word אֵלֶּה designates the journey of Israel through the wilderness as being spiritual and superior to any previous journeys. (Or HaChaim on Bamidbar / Numbers 33:1 Part 7) The name of the Torah Portion and the emphasis is placed upon the journeys that occurred prior to the spies as opposed to the journeys following the people’s rejection of the Land of Canaan and God declaring that generation to die in the wilderness. The rabbinic literature draws out the context of the mercy / grace of God demonstrated by His providing for the generation of people who were destined to die. Their rebelliousness and refusal to take upon themselves the Yoke of God’s Torah was given as a warning for us in future generations. This is similar to what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians regarding the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the Lord bringing the people through the Red Sea, and before the mountain of Sinai with the giving of the Torah.
1 Corinthians 9:24-10:14
9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 9:26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 9:27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 10:1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 10:2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 10:5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. 10:6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 10:7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’ 10:8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 10:9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10:10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 10:12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (NASB)
Paul parallels God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, along with their wilderness journey to the gospel message, of God delivering His people, bringing them through the Red Sea as a form of baptism, saying in both the cloud (the glory of God) and in the sea. Paul writes in a rabbinic way saying the people ate the same spiritual food (manna, bread from heaven), and spiritual drink (water from the rock), and concludes this was all done in the anointed one of God (the Messiah, Christ). The example given in the Torah was meant for our instruction as Paul goes on to say, 10:6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 10:7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’ 10:8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 10:9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10:10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (NASB) Paul emphasizes the Journey of Israel in the sense that we are not to be craving evil things or by being involved in idolatry, immorality, complaining, or grumbling. We are to take heed such that we do not fall because these things are all common to man. It is easy to fall into these sorts of sins and it is difficult to get out. The Jewish commentaries ask the question “why the Torah chose to emphasize the journeys i.e. Israel breaking camp rather than ‘making camp’ i.e. they arrived at a destination?” (Or HaChaim on Bamidbar / Numbers 33:1 Part 3) This is described by Paul as teaching us to turn from evil. Midrash Tanchuma uses a parable saying, “A king had a son who was sick, so he took him to one health spa after another. When the son had finally been cured and the father took him back home, the father would reminisce with him about all the various places they had been together prior to the last one where the son had been cured.” If the Midrash correctly summarizes the reason why the Torah lists all these journeys, it surely would have been more appropriate to list the places where they stayed or stopped over, i.e. the “arrivals.” This is alluding to the spiritual journey drawing a line of distinction between all of the journeys and again emphasizing the journey from Egypt to the mountain of Sinai. Paul describes why the Torah is so important for us to study each day, it is so we learn what had been done in the past and do not repeat history. This means that we learn from history! This again is the reasons why tearing down those things that remind us of our history is a very bad choice, this is what we see going on today a rewriting and elimination of historical things!
In the Greek language, the word for “law” is nomos, and so the Septuagint (Greek translation of the bible) chose to translate the Torah as nomos. One of the issues in translation, when translating a text into another language we lose a level of depth and meaning. One way to illustrate this is from the Septuagint, the Greek translators chose to translate the Hebrew name of the last book of Moses (Devarim: דְּבָרִים, “words”) as “the Second Law” (Δευτερονόμιον, deutero + nomos, Deuteronomy). In most cases the Septuagint translates the word “Torah” (תּוֹרָה) as “nomos” (νόμος). According to the Greek translation of the Torah in Devarim / Deuteronomy 4:8, the word nomos is used to describe the entire collection of mishpatim, chukkim, and mitzvot representing all of Israel’s covenantal obligations before the LORD. This Greek translation of Torah to Nomos was also carried over to the Apostolic Writings (NT). In the NT, we find the following usages. James writes that the nomos refers to the moral will of God (James 2:9-11, 4:11). The John quotes Yeshua using the word nomos to refer to the Tanakh in general (see John 10:34; 15:25). The most frequent usage is to the 5 books of Moshe (Matthew 11:13, Luke 16:16, 24:44, John 12:34, Acts 13:15, 28:23). In addition, we are given reference to the Torah according to its moral and ceremonial aspects (Matthew 7:12, 22:40, Luke 2:22, 2:39, 8:5, John 1:17, 7:19, 7:23, etc.). The Apostle Paul also used the word nomos in a varied way as regarding the collective set of commandments (Romans 2:12-29, 3:19, 5:20, 7:7, Galatians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 9:8, 14:34). In other places, Paul refers to the entire Tanach (see Romans 3:19 and 1 Corinthians 14:21). Paul also uses nomos to refer to “principles” such as in Romans 7:23 and 8:2 in his descriptions of “law of sin and death” as opposed to the “law of the Spirit of life.” Note how Paul uses nomos to describe 4 laws in Romans 7. Notice how translation can cause things to be a bit confusing if one has not studied these things properly. Paul also wrote about the central point of the Torah is on ethics and loving your neighbor (see Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:8-10) something the rabbis draw out in their teachings on the Torah. In each of these examples, Yeshua, the disciples, and Paul all use the word nomos in a variety of ways. In each case we must be very careful to examine the flow of thought, its usage, and context to understand the meaning and reasoning behind the use of the Greek word nomos as it refers to the Torah. Similarly, in this week’s Torah portion, we are reminded to look at the Torah to understand the greater context, the point, and purpose of the Torah for each of our lives, and the deeper spiritual meaning, which draws in the context of the gospel message, and the power of God to deliver His people!
In studying the flow and thought of the Torah alongside of the gospel message (or all of the NT) we can easily understand how Yeshua, being a rabbi and teacher, continually affirmed the essential meaning of the Torah. He upheld the Shema (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:4) and the corresponding verses of loving God (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:5-10) and loving others (Vayikra / Leviticus 19, Matthew 22:36-40). In this respect, Yeshua taught a continuation of the fundamental teachings of the Torah (i.e. to Love God and to Love others). The Apostolic Writings reveal how Yeshua further extended the meaning of the Torah command to that which comes from within in relation to one’s intent. Torah obedience is not simply a matter of obeying various external codes of conduct, but also, and most importantly, is a reference to the power of God in our lives by His Holy Spirit to live according to the Spirit, meaning we are given a circumcised heart to live our lives according to His Word! The Torah commanded against murder, and Yeshua extended the meaning of this command to reach the intent of the heart. (i.e. Matthew 5:21 You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to the fire of hell.…” NASB) Similarly, we find commands against the act of adultery. Yeshua extended this to not just the external action, but to one looking and longing upon a woman lustfully having already committed the act in the heart. (i.e. Matthew 5:28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. NASB) Yeshua points out a form of idolatry that is found within the one who lusts after a woman in his heart. This speaks of what is the intention, that is coupled to the physical act of adultery or fornication. When we take this approach to the Torah, the way Yeshua elevates the command here in his teachings, i.e in the intent of the command against adultery, this causes one to focus upon his relationship with others, with God, and admitting to himself that he needs help from God! The Torah speaks also on matters of divorce (Devarim / Deuteronomy 24:1-4), of the taking of oaths (Shemot / Exodus 20:16, Bamidbar / Numbers 30:2, Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:13), and on the idea of exacting retribution on others (see Shemot / Exodus 21:23-24, Vayikra / Leviticus 24:19-20, and Devarim / Deuteronomy 19:21). In addition, Yeshua extended the words of the Torah when something appeared permissible according to the letter of the law (see Matthew 5:31-47) raising the bar on topics such as making a vow, retaliation, loving our enemies, taking care of aged parents, etc. Yeshua’s interpretation of the Torah was more demanding and rigorous than the interpretation given by the rabbis. Yeshua extended the reach of the commandment by identifying its ethical and moral intent. This led to a more heart centered approach in seeking forgiveness before God, having God’s instructions written upon our hearts (Circumcised heart, Devarim / Deuteronomy 30:6) as compared to the tablets of stone. (see Jeremiah 31:33 and 2 Corinthians 3:3-6). The point is on the relevancy of the Torah for our lives today in the Messiah Yeshua. We do not die to the “Torah” as some modern theologies have taught. We die to sin, and we are made alive in the Spirit (God’s Holy Spirit) that dwells within. We have a covenant with God made and established by Yeshua who extended the Torah command teaching us for example, “to bear one another’s burdens and to love one another.” (see Galatians 6:2 and John 13:34). We do not “die to the Torah” but walk it out in our lives in a manner that was taught by Yeshua and his disciples. (Matthew 5-7) The way we understand these things is that there is “Torah” (תּוֹרָה) and there is “covenant” (בְּרִית). The word Torah is a word that means “instruction” which is a function of the underlying covenant which is entered into by faith! This means that the Torah is a function of the underlying covenant of which it is a part. It cannot be separated and done away with as is taught today by some Christian Theologies. The followers of Yeshua are therefore not to be anti-Torah and this is so because Hebrews 8:6 description of a better covenant is not about the doing away with the mosaic law. In the covenant that we have in Yeshua, we are called to live according to the Torah by the power of God that dwells within! Our lives are changed from the inside out for the glory of God, this is how Yeshua interpreted God’s Holy Word. This is what it means to obey and why we find Paul writing in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 1:5 This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 1:6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 1:7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 1:8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 1:10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed for our testimony to you was believed. (NASB) We are called to obedience to the Gospel Message. This obedience is related to the Torah and the New Covenant as they are coupled together. This is related to having faith and being faithful. We are called to have faith trusting, but also to be faithful in living our lives for the Lord. This is a very biblical concept, especially with Paul writing in both 1 Corinthians 9 and 2 Thessalonians 1 of being counted worthy and not being disqualified. Of course, we need God’s Help, we need Him to dwell in our midst, in our hearts, in order to empower us to overcome sin in our lives through repentance and walking in His ways by the power of His Spirit. This is the framework for the gospel that is laid out in the Torah. This is the point and purpose of the Torah in our lives, it is a way of life that we are led to according to the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God moving powerfully in our lives is also the Power of the Resurrection that Paul spoke of in Philippians 3:10 (“to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” NIV) This is the work of the God of Israel in our lives drawing us to Himself according to His Word!