Misplaced Loyalty B’ha-alotecha– Numbers 8:1 – 12:16 Rabbi Glenn
The Torah reading for this week is B’ha-alotecha, meaning “when you raise up”, referring to Aaron mounting the seven lamps that made up the golden lampstand. The reading is Numbers (BaMidbar), chapters 8 through 12. A whole lot of events are recorded in this section of the Torah… unfortunately, a lot of it is kvetching.
Chapter 8 is taken up with the consecration of the Levites. It is a fascinating picture. The entire assembly of Israelwas to lay their hands on the Levites to consecrate them. Then the Levites were to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls being presented as sin offerings. The picture is that of one thing standing in for another. The Levites were standing before God in the place of the nation, and the bulls were standing in the place of the Levites, whose sin needed atoning. After all, how can those whose sin is not atoned for possibly make atonement for others?
In chapter 9, God commands the sons of Israelto commemorate Passover annually on the 14th of Nisan. It was never to be neglected. Passover isn’t merely a family dinner with the addition of a little matzo ball soup and gefilte fish. It is the anniversary of our liberation from 400 years of slavery in Egypt! The penalty for neglecting such a memorial was to be cut off from among our people.
Chapters 9 and 10 document how God led us in the wilderness. Whether in a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night, whenever the cloud was lifted, Israelpacked up and set out. Whenever it settled, Israelsettled. It might be for a few days, several weeks, or even a year at a time. But our people followed God. It was to this that the prophet Jeremiah alluded in calling Israel to repentance, saying,
“Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying ‘Thus says the Lord, “I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown.”‘”
Chapters 11 and 12 recount a series of complaints. First our people complained about the lack of culinary variety. Too much manna, and no cucumbers, melons, leeks and onions like we had back in Egypt. Next Moses complains to God about having to put up with a constantly complaining people. Later Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ siblings, complain that he married an Ethiopian woman. Think about this: four hundred years of brutal slavery, and we’ve been free all of about a year, and already we’re demanding and accusing and are generally thankless. The immature believer looks at this passage and thinks, “What is wrong with these people?! Selfish, mean-spirited ingrates! Can’t they appreciate the fact that they’re free?!” But the mature believer looks at this and says, “Wow – that hits just a little too close to home! It sounds a lot like yours truly. How much I have and how I take it all for granted, and how little I express appreciation to God!” We human beings are quick to forget all that God has done for us. We begin demanding more and thanking less.
But what I’d like to focus on today is an exchange between Joshua and Moses. In order to lessen the burden of so many matters and disputes to be settled, God had Moses appoint seventy elders, onto whom God would place a portion of His Holy Spirit, so that they might share the burden of administering the nation. The seventy were summoned outside the camp to meet with Moses and God, but two of them, Eldad and Medad, for whatever reason, chose not to come out. But the Holy Spirit came upon these two also, right in the middle of the camp, and they began prophesying, too (so much for those who argue that the Holy Spirit is a force, or merely a “manifestation”. Impersonal forces are not capable of singling out two men in the midst of two million!)
But when Joshua heard about it, he urged Moses to restrain these guys. Joshua was fiercely loyal to Moses, and loyalty is commendable. But Joshua’s zeal in this instance was misplaced, and he earned a mild rebuke from Moses for it. He feared for Moses’ authority and position, whereas Moses, secure in who he was, said,
“Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:28-29)
A similar encounter took place 1,400 years later, during the transition between John the Baptist and Yeshua’s public ministries. It went like this:
There arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Judean about purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and everyone is going to Him.” John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from Heaven. You yourselves heard me say, ‘I am not the Messiah,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him…’ So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 2:25ff)
John’s disciples were jealous for his position and reputation. They were alarmed that the popularity and following of Yeshua had now eclipsed that of their own Rabbi. John set them straight. In the first place, he knew what his role was and where his jurisdiction ended. He was secure in his identity, whereas his disciples feared the loss of prestige. Secondly, he rejoiced that Yeshua was gathering a following, since He was, after all, the rightful Messiah. If anything, it validated John’s story about Him all the more, marking him as a true and good prophet.
Rabbi Paul chastened the believers in Corinthfor their misplaced allegiances, saying:
My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Messiah” Is Messiah divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:11-13)
We need to be careful to not misplace our loyalties, nor elevate other human beings, even those we highly respect, beyond what is appropriate. Moses was a great servant of God, but Joshua’s jealousy over him was wrong. Our first loyalty must be to God and to Messiah. Today I see Christians more often defending their favorite preacher, rather than contending for the truth. Perhaps their own prestige is jeopardized if their favorite guy is shown to be in the wrong. May God help us keep our allegiances in order!