e-book Then Suddenly: From the Wilderness to the Promise

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The exile mentality of the Jewish people, formed already in Egyptian bondage over three millennia ago, remains part of Jewish DNA even today. Like one domino falling after another, rebellion broke out in the camp directly following the failure of the spies.

Korah — a leader of the tribe of Levi, one of the bearers of the Holy Ark, the wealthiest man in Israel, and a close relative of Moses and Aaron — aroused others to mutiny and appoint him leader. Although Korah couched his motivation in idealistic-ideological terms — that all of the people are holy and worthy and Moses had no right to rule over them in a single-handed fashion Numbers — his real motivation was personal vendetta against those who had failed to appoint him to the high office he thought he deserved.

Moses, the most humble of all humans, reacted in an uncharacteristically harsh manner. Therefore, it was not merely Moses and his leadership that were the core issues in this dispute, but the very definition of Judaism: Is it revealed and Godly or man-made and invented? On that basic core issue of Judaism, Moses saw no room for compromise or tolerance.

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It was the understanding and true meaning of Judaism. Its very future was at risk.


Another major incident in the desert was the attempt of a Moabite king Balak to hire a non-Jewish prophet, Balaam, to curse the Jewish people Numbers Balak is brutal, direct and minces no words. The existence of the Jewish people itself is somehow seen as a lethal threat to him and Moab. Balaam, on the other hand, is suave, cunning, full of sweet words and blessings, but no less inimical to the existence of the Jewish people.

Whereas Balak seems to be safely ignored by heaven, not so Balaam. But behind that veneer of sincerity and good intentions lays the real villain of the story — the greedy, frustrated, amoral Jew-hater. Both Balak and Balaam are recurring characters in the Jewish story throughout the ages and present in our current world. Balak threatens physical extermination, openly stating his aims and threats.

Balaam organizes boycotts, and speaks in the name of skewed justice and human rights.

The Torah nowhere describes the demise of Balak; it only deals with the death of Balaam. For the end of Balaam is in fact the end of Balak as well. Balak is the hateful enemy, the bully and seeming aggressor.


However, it is Balaam who carries the key to the ultimate resolution of the situation. With his defeat and elimination, the situation can return to a manageable normalcy. The Book of Numbers concludes detailing all the places the Jews stayed from the time they left Egypt to the end of their 40 years in the desert. Jews are inveterate travelers. In their long exile there is almost no place in the world they have not visited, settled and eventually moved from.

Thus, the recording of all of the travels and way stations that the Jews experienced in their years in the Sinai desert is a small prophecy as to the future historical experiences of Jews over millennia of wandering. The paradigm of Jewish history in exile is that Jews arrive at a new destination, settle, help develop that country, begin to feel at home and attempt to assimilate into the majority culture and society. Suddenly, everything collapses.

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A mighty and unforeseen wind uproots them after centuries of living there and they move on to new shores. This was the Jewish heartland for centuries. But now Jews have moved on again to other shores. Every way station and desert oasis is recorded to serve as a reminder that the future of the Jewish people lies only in the Land of Israel. The Book of Deuteronomy , which consists of the final lectures of Moses during his last month on Earth, is the most human of all of the five books of the Torah.

He has already warned the people of his dark visions about their future and has advised them of the terrible costs that will be exacted from them in their long exile. Nevertheless, at the end his thoughts turn toward the future, to the greatness of the eternal people, its resilience and stubbornness and its tenacity. Moses, who is the supreme realist, nevertheless emphasizes that blessings overcome curses and that eventually goodness triumphs over evil.


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It should make every righteous soul of every age weep for these foolish people. Look into your own heart and see if the tragedy of Israel could not be repeated in your own life. At this point in history, Israel was just a few months out of Egypt, and they had been given the law of God. The Lord indicated that it was then time to go in and possess the promised land. He commanded that a reconnaissance group be sent into Canaan to reconnoiter the land. The evidence of the richness of the land was irrefutable, and the spies even brought back a cluster of grapes carried on a staff between two men to demonstrate the beauty and richness of the produce see Numbers Yet the spies, except for Joshua and Caleb, reported that, despite the richness of the land, there was no hope for driving out the inhabitants.

Such an exaggerated report of itself was bad enough and demonstrated the lack of faith of the ten men who gave it.

The Lord’s Wilderness

But the national tragedy began when Israel hearkened to their report. Nor did the murmuring stop there. A movement was started to reject Moses and choose a leader that would take them back to Egypt see Numbers and Nehemiah , which suggest that they actually chose the leaders who would take them back. When Joshua and Caleb tried to counteract the effect of the negative report, the congregation sought to have them stoned see Numbers Little wonder that the anger of the Lord was kindled. In a great intercessory prayer, Moses pleaded for mercy for his people see Numbers — He did not excuse the behavior of his people, but only emphasized the long-suffering mercy of the Lord.

Israel was spared destruction but lost the privilege of immediately entering the promised land.

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For the next thirty-eight years they were to wander in the harsh wilderness of Sinai. But they would not, and so all above the age of twenty who had repudiated the power of the Lord, except Joshua and Caleb, were to die in the wilderness. And yet, their mourning was not that of true repentance, as the events which immediately follow show. But Moses indicated that it was too late.

The Lord had retracted the commandment to go up and possess the land, and, therefore, if they went up then, they would go without His power. Then came the second stage of the tragedy. The Israelites had just lost the right to enter the promised land because they had refused to follow the Lord. Recorded here is the actual application of the various sacrificial offerings prescribed in Leviticus 1 through 7.

That is, they were to be excommunicated from the camp of Israel see v. In some cases the sin also required the death penalty. It was not a sin committed in ignorance or weakness, but a deliberate refusal to obey the word of the Lord. This law thus teaches, on an individual basis, the same lesson taught Israel collectively; that is, when persons or nation despise the word of the Lord and willfully sin, they will be cut off from God and not be counted part of His covenant people. They will suffer spiritual death.

To stone a man for violation of the Sabbath seems a harsh punishment. But in its historical context, two things are significant. Moses had just given the law for willful rebellion against God. Did this man know the law of the Sabbath? Moses had clearly taught earlier that one who violated the Sabbath was to be put to death see Exodus —15 ; But think for a moment of what had just happened to Israel.

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  • They, as a nation, had despised the word of the Lord, first, by refusing to go up against the Canaanites when the Lord had told them to, and second, by going up against them after the Lord had told them not to. Thus Israel had been denied entry into the promised land. Now, an individual despised the word of the Lord and refused to enter the rest required on the Sabbath.