(In the Wilderness):
the Service of the Levites BAMIDBAR
(In the Wilderness)
Numbers 1:1–4:20; Hosea 1:10– 2:20 [2:1–2:22]; Romans 15:1–7“
Adonai spoke to Moses
in the Sinai Desert [Bamidbar].” (Numbers 1:1)
Last week, we finished studying the Book of Leviticus with
This week’s Torah study begins the fourth of the
five books of Moses, Bamidbar, which means in the
desert or wilderness.
While this name is taken from the fifth Hebrew word in verse one, it reflects one of the themes of this book.
In this Parasha,
Adonai makes it a priority to
an Israelite military force before they
set out on their
through the wilderness to the
The Counting of the ArmyBamidbar is called
“Numbers” in English because the first four chapters mention censuses of Israelites,
the first of which number the men who are able to bear arms.
An older Hebrew name for Bamidbar —
Sefer Hapikudim (Book of the Countings) --
also reflects this theme of counting.
In chapter one of Bamidbar, the Israelites still camp at Mount Sinai after having received the law, built the Tabernacle, and been instructed in worship. Now before they move forward to the Promised Land, they must be prepared for the threats that lie ahead on the journey.
The Lord commands Moses to take a census of all Israelite males able to bear arms from ages twenty and up.
Reserve your free bible now“And so he counted them in the Desert of Sinai.” (Numbers 1:19)
The census results reveal that the Israelites are mighty in number.
The men capable of battle are listed by tribe, totaling 603,550 men:
- Reuben: 46,500
- Simeon: 59,300
- Gad: 45,650
- Judah: 74,600
- Issachar: 54,400
- Zebulun: 57,400
- Ephraim: 40,500
- Manasseh: 32,200
- Benjamin: 35,400
- Dan: 62,700
- Asher: 41,500
- Naphtali: 53,400
The Elite Service of the Levites
"In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner
for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him,
His resting place will be glorious.”
are not counted in the census since they are not to be
conscripted into the military.
who descend from Aaron are
anointed as priests and given
(Exodus 28:1, 29:9).
Those Levites who do not descend from Aaron function
in subordinate roles to the Aaronite priests as their servants.
These Levites replace
firstborn sons of Israel
who were originally given this task
but lost that privilege
due to their worship of the Golden Calf.
faithful during that time and
earned God’s favor.
(Exodus 13:2, 13:11–13, 32:25–26; Numbers 3:12–13)
As servants to the priests, the Levites are placed in charge of the furnishings and structure of the Tabernacle — taking it all down, carrying it, and setting it back up as the Israelites moved through the wilderness.
This is such a holy assignment that
only the Levites
are allowed to approach the
Any unauthorized person coming near would be punished with death.
A depiction of Jewish priests
The Levites are also required
to set up their tents around the
(not in one location as the other tribes).
They form a barrier to prevent the Israelites from
coming too close
in order to prevent the wrath of God from falling upon
the Israelite camp. (Numbers 1:53)
All Israelites are to camp at a
specified distance from the
Tent of Meeting —
far enough away to protect the
holiness of the
and yet close enough for the Israelites
come for the meetings on foot.
“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron:
‘The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.’”
According to Divine placement, the 12 tribes of Israel camp beyond the Levite circle in four groups of three tribes each:
- Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun to the East
- Reuben, Simeon, and Gad to the South;
- Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin to the West; and
- Dan, Asher, and Naphtali to the North.
Because light comes from the East,
that is where Moses, Aaron, and his sons camp,
since they are great,
holy men responsible for
light of God to the nation.
The 12 tribes encamped around the Tabernacle
Each tribe has its own prince or leader (nasi / Numbers 2:3) and distinctive flag or banner (degel / Numbers 2:2) with its own particular tribal emblem and color. The colors are thought to correspond to the precious stones on the breastplate of the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol).
These symbols are considered a sign of
God’s great love for
each tribe of Israel, as it says in
Song of Songs:
“His banner [degel] over me is love.” (v. 2:4)
Even while traveling,
the Israelites kept to their particular formation
around the Tabernacle.
According to Rabbinic commentary (Midrash),
that formation allowed Korah (a Levite) to conspire
with Datan, Abiram, and On (Reubenites) to
mutiny against the
leadership of Moses
Since they lived in close proximity on the south side of the
they used the opportunity to foment a rebellion.
this is a perfect illustration of
the importance of
carefully choosing our companions.
The Bible teaches us that bad company corrupts good character
(1 Corinthians 15:33).
A Jerusalem mosaic with emblems of the 12 Tribes of Israel
Haftarah Prophetic Portion: United Under One Authority
“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as
the sand of the sea,
which cannot be measured nor numbered.”
Usually there is a common theme between the Parasha and the corresponding Haftarah (prophetic portion).
The connection in today’s study from the Book of Hosea (Hosea 1:10-2:20 [2:1–22])is the wilderness and the numbering of the people of Israel.
Hosea, in fact, prophesies that Israel’s numbers will grow in number like the sand of the sea.
An Israeli boy makes sandcastles on the Mediterranean Sea.
Hosea prophesies that the
two houses of
Judah and Israel
will eventually be
re-unified in the Messianic Era
under a single leader,
as also foreseen by
Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, among other
prophets and writers.
(Daniel 7:13–14; Isaiah 9:6–7, 11:1–16; Ezekiel 37:15–28; Zechariah 14)
is Yeshua HaMashiach
Jesus the Messiah
“And the children of Judah
the children of Israel
be gathered together,
and they shall
appoint for themselves one head.
And they shall go up from the land,
shall be the day of Jezreel.”
(Hosea 1:11 [2:2], also 3:3–5)
Because of this theme of assembling together in
unity under one head,
this portion is read before Shavuot, the time
when all the children came
as one people
receive the Torah
Likewise, at Shavuot
disciples of Yeshua
unity of mind, heart, and purpose
of the Ruach HaKodesh
There is an anointing
blessing when we
gather together in unity with
who love God.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people
live together in unity!
It is like precious
oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard, running down on
Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon were
falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even
An Israeli soldier wearing tefillin (phylacteries)
recites the morning prayers.
Redemption and Marriage
In this prophetic book,
which is the first of the Trei Asar (Twelve Prophets),
God uses Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute as a
real life parable
His great love for Israel.
After Hosea’s wife bears him children,
the Lord tells Hosea to
send his wife and children away.
but declares his love for them, despite his wife’s straying.
Through this dispersion of his family,
to understand God’s absolute commitment
despite her straying.
With this insight,
Hosea rebukes Israel for engaging in adulterous affairs
with pagan deities and
being an unfaithful spouse to the Lord.
And yet, just as Hosea takes back his wife
who played the harlot,
God promises to take back His unfaithful wife, Israel.
He promises that the Jewish People
will repent and be
betrothed to Him forever.
“I will betroth you to Me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.”
(Hosea 2:19–20 [2:21–22])
This concluding passage of the Haftarah is a
wonderful prophecy of redemption,
which is recited by Orthodox Jewish men each morning as they put on the tefillin (phylacteries).
This traditional wrapping of the leather straps
around the man’s fingers is similar
to a groom placing
the wedding ring upon his bride.
It is meant to be
symbolic of the betrothal of God and Israel.
Many have falsely said that God is finished with
His Chosen People;
Bible prophecy clearly reveals that
this will never be so.
In fact, in these Last Days,
God is moving among
His people to physically and spiritually