Bamidbar - May 15, 2021

Torah Portion:
Bamidbar - May 15, 2021

Torah: Numbers 1:1-4:20
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22

Devotional by Matt Gile:
In the Wilderness
“In the wilderness of Sinai, on the first day of the second month in the second year from the Exodus from the land of Egypt, Adonai spoke to Moses….” Numbers 1:1 (TLV)

How far we’ve come!

Here we are, with the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai. We’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of the Exodus—when God freed His people from slavery in Egypt. Over the course of the last year God revealed Himself on the mountain to the entire people, met personally with Moses, and delivered instructions on how the Israelites were to comport themselves once they enter into the land promised to Abraham’s descendants all those generations ago.

It’s been a big year, but now the time has finally come. It’s time to move out!

Of course if you’re familiar with the story already, you may know that [Spoiler Alert!] it turns out not to be as easy as all that. Rather than moving straight from Sinai into the Promised Land, the Israelites will wander in the wilderness for forty years until only Joshua and Caleb remain from the original group who left Egypt. But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves…

For this week our portion is called Bamidbar, which translates to in the wilderness—the traditional Hebrew title taken from the first words of the book. The more familiar English title Numbers actually comes from the Septuagint—a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, written in Egypt around the 3rd Century BCE.

In these first few chapters, Moses takes a census of the people (hence, Numbers), organizes campsites for the tribes, lists out specific duties for the Levites in caring for the Tabernacle, and prepares the people to move. It can sometimes be hard to see how these things apply in our world today, and the temptation—even for the most well-intentioned Bible reader—can be to skim over these chapters and get back to the narrative. But as we read, let’s not get lost in the tall weeds and lose sight of the bigger picture of what God is doing here:

God is creating something that did not exist before. He is taking the Israelites—a people—and transforming them, forging them into a nation. This time in the wilderness is necessary to shape their character, to prepare them for what comes next, to make them ready for when they finally enter the blessing—the Promised Land.

If we pause for a minute and reflect on our own stories, we find that God often uses seasons of difficulty and disorientation to shape our character as well. These wilderness seasons are rarely easy or fun, and our natural instinct is to get out of them as quickly as possible or avoid them altogether, but they are often necessary to strengthen us, and prepare us for what God has next in our lives.

It’s important to remember, too, that God did not abandon the Israelites in the wilderness, He moved with them. And He doesn’t abandon us in our wilderness either. He is there with us. He will never leave us, and he will never forsake us.

So instead of running from the wilderness, lean into it without fear! In times of trouble, rather than asking God why are you doing this to me, let’s ask instead what is it that You want me to learn in this season, and what is it that you’re preparing me for?

And then may we keep ourselves open to hear the answer.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 (TLV)

“This I know—that God is for me…in God I trust, I will not be afraid.” Psalm 56:10-12 (TLV)
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