Parashah #43: Masa’ei ( Stages) B’midbar (Numbers) 33:1-36:13

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #43: Masa’ei (Stages) B’midbar 33:1-36:13
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu(Jeremiah) 2:4-28; 4:1-2
B’rit Chadashah: Ya’akov (James) 4:1-22

This week we are going to start our discussion on the borders of Israel as “The Land” that has not yet been completely occupied by the true “Israel” in the context of true believers defined by YHVH/Yahshua in Romans 1-3; John chapter 14, and the seven-fold witness in Revelation. The precise way in which G-d defined and described the boundaries of the Land illustrate His meticulous control and details of His blessings. He was intimately acquainted with the topography of the land which would define Israel’s dwelling places. This should not be a surprise since he created the universe and everything in it, but such detail shows us that there is nothing that is unknown to our G-d. The task of assigning the land to be inherited by each tribe was so significant that G-d chose the committee that would be in charge of this distribution. The actual assignment of land is found in Joshua 13-19. Besides the addition of Eleazar the priest and Joshua, one prince from every tribe was designated (34:16-29). Just as I often speak of the importance of researching biblical names and places that we will gain a deeper understanding of scripture, there is an interesting observation in the translation of each of the princes chosen for this task:
Judah: Kelev, “attacker, seizer”
Simeon: Shmuel, “heard of G-d”
Dan: Bukki, “reverer of YHVH”
Joseph-Manasseh: Hanniel, “grace of G-d”
Ephraim: Kemuel, “assembly of G-d”
Zebulun: Elizaphan, “ whom G-d shields”
Issachar: Paltiel, “who G-d rescues”
Asher: Ahihud, “ friend of union”
Naphtali: Pedahel, “ whom G-d redeems”

As a constant reminder of the inextricable relationship between G-d’s written Torah and His grace that would later be manifest as Yahshua teaching the intent of His written laws, six of the Levite cities designated for their swellings and pasturing were designated as places of refuge for someone who killed another and was fleeing from one who was out to avenge the death (35:6) This was in essence a case of an individual fleeing to a designated city by G-d for this purpose to plead for His mercy.
Again, we see the tandem relationship between G-d’s righteousness and mercy demonstrated in the rationale and provision of the refuge cities. Looking first at G-d’s righteousness, in chapter 35:33,34 alludes to the principles involved. Whenever a man was killed, either by accident or purposefully, blood was shed, which necessarily contaminated the land. Expiation for that life could only be made “ by the blood of him that shed it” ( 35:33). G-d would be dwelling in the midst of the land/Israel so there had to be a way to remove the contaminant from the land, lest G-d not be able to remain in Israel.
Moving to G-d’s grace, the six cities of refuge appointed, three on each side of the Jordan river was G-d’s solution for the expiation for an accidental killing of another.
1. The right of revenge by the relatives of the slain individual was recognized (Gen. 9:5,6). In the case of premeditated murder, there was no refuge for the killer in the sight of at least two witnesses (Num 35:30). There was not even a hope of ransom money (35:31).
2. In the case of an unintentional killing “without hate and without laying in wait, there was still a legal guilt of killing another, but no moral guilt. The fact that there was no moral guilt attached was the reason blood vengeance was not justified. The cities of refuge are identified in Deut. 4:41-43; 19:1-13; Josh. 20:7.
3. A trial by the leaders of the congregation determined whether a slaying was accidental or not. If it was an accident, the one who killed another was committed to live in the refuge city until the death of the high priest. He could not be freed by ransom and if he left the city before the designated time, he lost the guarantee of protection from the avenger.
4. The legal guilt of slaying another unintentionally was eventually expiated with the death of the high priest because the slayer had to live in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest who had been anointed with holy oil (35:25). As the representative and mediator of the Israelites, the high priest in his death was shown to be the legal cause for justification of the slayer. The demand for expiation was thereby fulfilled, and the slayer was saved from the wrath of the avenger and fully liberated to return to his home.

So, how does this concept of refuge cities and expiation for unintentional death apply to us? Many people believe the Bible as historical and outdated, none of its contents applicable to today. Statements and belief in such error bring to the fore biblical ignorance whether intentional or unintentional. This is a great starting point for the application of this parashah to those living today and in the future.
Yahshua was and is our High Priest who was anointed with oil, both His head and feet by Mary Magdalene ( Matt. 26; Mark 14; John 12). This took place on Wednesday of Holy Week at the house of Simeon the Leper in Bethany, a Judean village on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Parallel to the high priest being the only one who could expiate the sin of slaying another, even though unintentional, Yahshua was the only one who can provide expiation for our sins. It is important to note that the slaying of another unintentionally was a “past” sin and the high priest’s death did not cover any future incidents. The high priest’s death did not provide a “cart blanche” “insurance policy against any possible future slaying. Similarly, Romans 3:25 and 2 peter 1:9 tell us that through Yahshua’s death we are forgiven for past sins with repentance and a lifestyle change that requires learning to “hear,” internalize, and live G-d’s Torah/instructions. Just as the Israelites were taken out of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and then began a walk(spiritual and physical) toward a life dedicated to G-d through His Torah.
Another important reality described in the narrative of the cities of refuge is that intentional slayings were not expiated with the death of the high priest. Furthermore, ransom money was of no avail and there was no refuge. This concept applies to antinomians (against law), in this case, against the laws of G-d. This applies to so many churches and other religious institutions, including some sects of Judaism such as the Humanistic movement and those sects who have decided to follow their own version of G-d’s Torah. Those who do not repent and turn their hearts toward YHVH/Yahshua out of a loving obedience will also find that there will be no refuge or ransom that can expiate high-handed rebellion. Those who question the truth and consistency of the Old Testament teachings with the B’rit Chadashah (“New Testament) teachings either have not yet learned or have forgotten that YHVH Yahshua was, and is, and is to come. He does not change(Malachi 3:6).

Haftarah: Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 2:4-28; 4:1-2
This haftorah is the second of a series of three “haftarot of affliction.” These three haftarot are read during the Three Weeks of mourning for Jerusalem, between the fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av. It is beneficial to your learning to research these fast days and understanding their relevance to the time period. See if you can separate facts from tradition.
The prophet Jeremiah transmits G d’s message to the Jewish people, in strong tones chastising all classes including the leadership, for their abandonment of G-d. “What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me, and they went after futility and themselves became futile?” He reminds them of the kindness G-d did for them, taking them out of Egypt and leading them through the desert and settling them in the Promised Land, yet they repaid kindness with disloyalty. “For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, [and furthermore, this was in order] to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.”
G d asks them to view the actions of their neighboring nations, the Kittites and Kedarites, “and see whether there was any such thing, whether a nation exchanged a god, although they are not gods. Yet My nation exchanged their glory for what does not avail.”
Jeremiah then goes on to foretell the suffering the Jewish people will suffer at the hands of their enemies, and also their erstwhile allies: “Your evil will chastise you, and you will be rebuked for your backslidings; and you shall know and see that your forsaking the L rd your G d is evil and bitter.”
The haftorah ends on an encouraging note, assuring the people that if they return to G d with sincerity, they will be restored to their full glory.

B’rit Chadashah: Ya’akov (James) 4:1-12
We come full circle to the admonishment by James similar to that Moshe gave the people we mentioned at the beginning of this lesson. Again, it is important to research the names of the places the people of Israel stopped on their journey to the land because it is applicable to our walk with G-d. We must never forget from whence we came and must never forget our Source of help. This was the rationale for G-d commanding Moshe to recall the places and sins of the people at each place they camped. Honest self- examination is a humbling but beneficial experience. The names of the camps remind the people that G-d was with them every step of the way. It was they who wandered away from G-d, not the reverse. This is the problem today. We are just beginning to see the calamities and tragedies that result from mans’ rebellion against G-d and His instructions/Torah. Yet, from the highest levels of leadership to the most destitute, the blame is always placed on someone else. Societies do not take personal responsibility for collective rebellion, yet many are quick to say ‘G-d bless America,” and ‘G-d help us.”
Similarly, James brings to the people’s attention the source of their quarrelling and fights are selfish motives not of G-d. James reminds us that we cannot walk the fence with the lusts of the world and pagan religion on one side and G-d’s Torah and a Torah-observant life on the other. We are to submit to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob G-d and no other. We must choose to stand for G-d and His Torah, then the Adversary will flee. Repeating James 4:8 extending to verse 10 we read: “Come close to G-d and He will come close to you. Clean your hands, sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded people! Wail, mourn, sob! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom! Humble yourselves before the L-rd, and He will lift you up.”
We are all sinners and responsible for what is happening in our world and what is yet to come. True believers are and will experience many of the consequences of collective social sin. However, there is a way of reconciliation and return to G-d. That way is through true repentance and reconciliation to G-d through trusting in Yahshua’s sacrifice. Yahshua came as G-d incarnate (Emanuel) for the specific purpose of providing a way to overcome the sin nature and avoid G-d’s future wrath on those who choose to reject Him. However, we are not to judge one another because there is only one Giver of the Torah, and only one Judge with the power to deliver or destroy our souls. We will be judged as we judge (Matt. 7:1-5) and we need to internalize this truth and make any necessary changes in our attitudes/lives. Consider this; when we judge others are we not seeing a reflection of our own shortcomings? Let us take to heart the advice of our Messiah Yahshua “How can you say to your brother,’ Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!”
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart