1. Now YHWH spoke to Moshe in the wilderness [b'midbar] of Sinai, in the Tent of Appointment, on the first day of the second month in the second year after they had come out of Egypt, saying,

The first day of the second month and the traditional reading of this Torah portion both always occur during the "counting the omer (measure)” between Firstfruits and Shavuoth--a time when YHWH highlights the need to take account and consider the significance of our names and which giftings are among each congregation (as per Ephesians 4), which is exactly what is taking place here:

2. "Lift up the heads of the entire congregation of the descendants of Israel according to their clans, by their fathers' households, according to the number of names--a head count of every male.

At the “hand writing on the wall” incident (Daniel 5:13ff), Babylonian King Belshatzar did not learn from his father’s mistakes. He took advantage of the wrong things, and profaned the vessels from YHWH’s Temple, using them at a banquet in honor of deities who, unlike YHWH, who held his very breath in His hands, could not even breathe themselves. He was “weighed in the balances and found to be lacking”. Here, YHWH tells Moshe and Aharon to “weigh” Israel and find out which of us “count”. Lift up the heads: Here it specifically refers to a census, but it is an idiom for paying direct attention to someone (Gen. 40:13, 19), like a child who turns the head of someone he wants to be sure is listening to what he is saying! Before He lets us come all the way to His Home, YHWH promised to bring us into the wilderness, and judge us face to face (Y’hezq’El 20:4, 30-38). Moshe set in place those he knew by experience to be fearers of YHWH and wise enough to make the right decisions. (Ex. 18:21) This is not a lame threat that comes in the mail, but an up-close counting. He is separating out communities even while we are still in exile. According to their clans…fathers’ households: The house, not the individual, is the most basic building block in Israel; for the sake of the nation, it is important that each one be in his proper place, so his or her gift can be put to use in the proper proportion to the rest. This verse is the key to the organization YHWH wants. It is how Israel was organized in ancient times. We have to read the instructions before we put this house back together. Since the pattern was disrupted, it is no longer so easy to tell who our brothers are, so Yeshua said the family in Israel now consists of those who listen to YHWH’s words and do them. (Mat. 12:46ff; Luke 8:19ff, alluding to Ex. 24:7) To these we must give the most loyalty.

3. "From twenty years old and upward, all who are able to go out to [the] army in Israel, you and Aharon are to number them all by their companies.

Number: Literally, visit, or make sure none is missing and all are accounted for. (R. Dov Fischer) ) It has to do with being placed in the balance and not knowing to which side the scale will tip. Each is give a personal visit, tapped on the head, and told directly, “You’re in the army now.” The clear significance is that those who do not fight for Israel—those who sit on the sidelines, who only “warm pews”--are not counted, and thus on the practical level “do not count” to YHWH. This sounds cold, but if it is arrogant, it is YHWH’s own arrogance and we have to deal with it. Armies have many positions. Not all are on the front lines. The important point is that we each do our part. No upper limit is given here as there is with those entering the priesthood (4:3), but we can deduce from Lev. 27:3 that the norm was from 20 to 60 years of age. We will be “visited by Moshe” (as the Torah screens out where we fit) during the Counting of the Omer and assessed as to our value to Israel.

4. "And with you there shall be a man from every tribe, each one a head of the household of his ancestors.

With you: to help take the head count.

5. "And these are the names of the men who shall stand with you:
  From Reuven, Elitzur [my Elohim is a rock] the son of Sh'dey-ur [darter of light];

Son: or descendant. The names listed are not necessarily direct fathers, but are sometimes the most illustrious person in his ancestral lineage, who had brought the most honor to the particular family line.

6. "From Shim'on, Sh'lumiEl [El is my peace], son of Tzurishaddai [The Nourisher is my Rock];

7. "From Yehudah, Nachshon [enchanter], son of Amminadav [my people have been generous]; 

8. "From Issachar, Nethan'El [given by El] the son of Tzuar [littleness];

9. "From Z'vulun, Eliav [my Elohim is a Father] the son of Cheylon [very capable];

10. "Of the sons of Yosef,
  from Efrayim, Elishama [my Elohim has heard] the son of Ammihud [my people are splendid];
  from M’nasheh, Gam'liel [El has dealt bountifully with me] the son of Pedahtzur [the Rock has ransomed];

Verse 2 speaks of the number of the names themselves. The numeric value of M’nasheh’s name in Hebrew is 395—5 more than the number of the years of punishment of the Northern Kingdom, according to Hoshea 4. Five, the number of books in the Torah, makes the one whose name means “forgetful” measure up. Elishama was Y’hoshua’s grandfather. (1 Chron. 7:26-27)

11. "From Binyamin, Avidan [my father is a judge] the son of Gid'oni [my woodcutter];

12. "From Dan, Akhiezer [my brother helps] the son of Ammishaddai [my kinsman is enough];

13. "From Asher, Pagiel [El has met me] the son of Ochran [troubled];

14. "From Gad, Eliasaf [Elohim has added] the son of DeuEl [know El!];

15. "From Nafthali, Akhira [my brother is evil] the son of Enan [having eyes]."

 Akhira is an odd name, to be sure, but Yaaqov’s brother was evil as well. But he could have been forced to have an Egyptian name based on their deity, Ra, just as even some Jews today are named Christopher. 

16. These were the ones summoned from the congregation, captains of the tribes of their ancestors; they [were] heads of thousands in Israel.

The tribes of the sons of the servant-girls are listed after Rachel's sons and Leah's sons. Of these 24 names (not counting the 12 tribal names), all but four are based on either "El" (Elohim) or the relationship to some other member of their family. This shows that they felt personally responsible, before Elohim, for the welfare of their entire tribe. They are distinguished as individuals, yet their importance is chiefly related to how they benefit the whole congregation. They were not chosen by committees or brought in from outside seminaries and paid to lead. They were home-grown, natural leaders chosen by neighbors and older relatives who had seen them in action and knew they were worthy to lead because they were committed and careful with the things of Israel. According to Yithro’s advice, Moshe chose them as well as leaders under them of tens, fifties, and hundreds. (Ex. 18:17-21) Thus the Torah is what chooses leaders in Israel. I.e., those who take it up and carry it robustly in full dedication to YHWH’s house. This is what determines who should lead. They were being put on the hot seat, but their names are still in the Book of Life. Such leaders must be in place again so that Yeshua has an orderly Kingdom awaiting him to bring home to his Land. 

17. So Moshe and Aharon [went to] get these men who were specified by name,

Specified: i.e., "hand-picked".

18. and they assembled the whole congregation together on the first day of the second month, and they registered by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upwards, by their heads,

The heads of each house had to give an accounting for each head within their household. On the new moon—a day of renewing, they also remembered their ancestry, because we cannot know who we are unless we know where we came from. And today, where we came from is where we are going. Latent in us are both diseases and potential, both positive and negative, to which we are inclined because of what our parents passed on to us genetically. The “new” moon is not actually new, but new light is cast on it, representing new understandings of what has been part of us for a long time.  

19. just as YHWH had commanded Moshe. Thus he mustered them in the wilderness of Sinai.

The reason such a numbering was frowned on by YHWH in David’s day (2 Shmu’el 24) is that David apparently did not obey Ex. 30:12ff and take up the half-sheqel Temple tax from those who were about to become killers so as to redeem them from bloodguilt. 

20. Now the sons of Reuven, Israel's firstborn, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, by their heads, every male from twenty years old and upward---all who were able to go out to [the] army--

21. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Reuven) were 46,500.

Mustered: the word can mean "numbered", "registered", "cared for", or "visited". It suggests that Moshe took great care to hand-pick these people by visiting them right at their tents.  

22. From the sons of Shim'on, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, for their polls, every male from twenty years old and upward---all who were able to go out to [the] army--

From: literally, “for” or “belonging to”, as consistently used below as well.

23. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Shim'on) were 59,300.

24. From the sons of Gad, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward---all who were able to go out to [the] army--

25. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Gad) were 45,650.

26. From the sons of Yehudah, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward--all who were able to go out to [the] army--

27. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Yehudah) were 74,600.

This tribe always had the largest single representation, and in the latter counting (ch. 26) only when the two sons of Yosef are counted together does anyone else ever surpass Yehudah. Throughout most of history, Yehudah has been the only tribe clearly identifiable as the descendants of Yaaqov until very recently, when Yosef’s children are again more discernible. The reason these two sons of the patriarch have stood out so vividly is that both of them overtly took responsibility for their brothers during times of dire crisis.

28. From the sons of Issachar, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward---all who were able to go out to [the] army--

29. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Issachar) were 54,400.

30. From the sons of Z'vulun, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward---all who were able to go out to [the] army--

31. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Z'vulun) were 57,400.

32. Of the sons of Yosef, from the sons of Efrayim, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward---all who were able to go out to [the] army--

33. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Efrayim) were 40,500.

34. From the sons of M’nasheh, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward---all who were able to go out to [the] army--

35. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of M’nasheh) were 32,200.

36. From the sons of Binyamin, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward--all who were able to go out to [the] army--

37. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Binyamin) were 35,400.

38. From the sons of Dan, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward---all who were able to go out to [the] army--

39. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Dan) were 62,700.

40. From the sons of Asher, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward--all who were able to go out to [the] army--

41. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Asher) were 41,500.

42. From the sons of Nafthali, their genealogies by their clans, by the households of their fathers, according to the number of the names, every male from twenty years old and upward--everyone who was able to go out to [the] army--

43. those who were mustered among them (the tribe of Nafthali) were 53,400.

44. These are the ones who were mustered, whom Moshe and Aharon mustered, as well as the captains of Israel, 12 men; each of them was for the household of his ancestors.

45. Thus all who were mustered from the sons of Israel, according to the households of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward--all who were able to go out to [the] army in Israel--

46. The total of those mustered was 603,550.

The way the count was tallied was by counting the number of sheqels received and dividing by two. (Ex. 30:12) This count is the same as the total counted just before the Tabernacle was built (Ex. 38:26), suggesting that no one died during the entire construction of the Dwelling Place.  

47. But the Levites, after the tribe of their fathers, were not numbered among them,

Angus Wootten notes that when there were 603,550 Jewish residents in "Palestine", the modern nation of Israel came into being; when there were this many who could go to war, the city of Yerushalayim was recovered. Yet Efrayim, YHWH's firstborn (Yirmeyahu 31:9), which correlates with the Levites taken in place of the firstborn (see 3:13ff), were not counted among them, though Efrayim, too, will return and inhabit the Land. As Israel is not counted among the nations, yet is a nation, the Levites are not counted among the tribes of Israel, though they are counted later; they are a people especially "attached" to YHWH, as Levi's name indicates. They are to be looked on differently from the rest of the nation. They are not part of the regular army, but do shed blood when necessary as a special “task force” that guards YHWH’s sanctuary from being defiled. (v. 51-53; 25:7-11)  

48. since YHWH had spoken to Moshe, saying,

49. "Except, you shall not muster the tribe of Levi [for war], though, nor lift up the head among them among the sons of Israel.

50. "Rather, you shall appoint the Levites over the Dwelling Place of the Testimony and over all its equipment, and everything that pertains to it. They shall carry the Dwelling Place and all its equipment, and shall serve it, and shall encamp round about the Dwelling Place.

Serve it: or "wait on it". Only the top of the brazen 
altar was carried along when the camp moved; the 
rest was rebuilt at each station with new stones, so 
that a witness remained behind each time. The only
 permanently-established altar was in Yerushalayim. 
YHWH has used many “movements" throughout 
history--reformations, revivals, special anointings 
which serve as holy signposts--but He also moves 
on, and if we do not move with Him, now matter 
how holy we have been, we will fall short of what 
He intends for us to become.

51. "And when the Dwelling Place sets out [to 
travel], the Levites shall take it down, and when 
the Dwelling Place is to be pitched, the Levites 
shall set it up. Anyone else who comes near shall be put to death.

Sometimes in the same passage, both the Dwelling Place and its tent are mentioned separately (notably Lev. 16:33) as if two different entities. But it is the Presence of YHWH Himself that decides when to move; the tent is incidental. "Anyone else": literally, "the stranger”. We cannot toy with YHWH's presence; He wants no one coming near whose heart is not genuine. But the emphasis seems to be on being anyone who is not part of this chosen tribe. Though they do not go out to war, the structure of the Levite camp is one of battle formation, for they are the last line of defense in guarding the sanctity of the innermost part of the camp. If something unholy gets this far past the other tribes, and threatens to defile the Dwelling, they are responsible to stop it. Pin'has, who killed two who were doing this, was following his job description precisely, and YHWH rewarded him for it (ch. 25).

52. "And the descendants of Israel shall pitch their tents, each with his own camp, and each with his own standard [banner], according to their companies.

His own standard: While there is one Torah for everyone, only the Levites are given the right to make a ruling that is binding on all Israel. Although Yehudah has preserved the language and many of the oral traditions from the earliest times and we have so much to learn from them, the other tribes are not intended to become Yehudah. Many of those coming in from outside of Yehudah have been under the Messiah's standard, which Yehudah, by and large, has refused to bow to for a variety of reasons. We do not have to become exactly like them, but we are not rivals. Each has his own calling from YHWH, even in regard to battle skills (e.g., Binyamin’s left-handed archers), and each has a part to play in building up the whole Body for the benefit of all. In fact, there are Jewish traditions that many of the ancient customs--one of them being the New Moon, which Yehudah rarely celebrates today--will be restored by the descendants of the Northern Kingdom. And so it is taking place. 

53. "But the Levites shall encamp round about the Tabernacle of Testimony, so there will not be wrath upon the descendants of Israel, and the Levites shall keep guard [over] the Tabernacle of Testimony."

54. So the descendants of Israel indeed did everything just as YHWH commanded Moshe.

This is the greatest compliment anyone in Scripture is given. They had no Scriptures and only Moshe’s word that this was what YHWH wanted, but still they obeyed more fully than we do yet today. Are we also doing exactly as we have been told?  


1. Then YHWH spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying,

2. "Every man of the descendants of Israel must camp by his own standard with the insignia of his father's house; they shall pitch [their tents] around and facing the Tabernacle of Testimony [at a distance].

Camp: to pitch a tent, settle, and relax—to find the right place and settle in. It comes from a root word meaning to incline (possibly because a tent peg must be pointed inward toward the tent to keep the rope taut). We need to firmly “drive down stakes” into what YHWH wanted the world to see when He chose our forefathers, or the first strong wind, whether of doctrine, natural family ties, or security concerns, will blow our “tent” away. But to do so, we must pull up stakes from wherever else we have been camped—not just physically, but the stakes that remain in our hearts and minds. We need to see the community of Israel as our true home, and commit to staying there, nailing down stakes in the place where you count. What took our fathers down was looking at the other nations around them and finding their ways attractive. Avram was willing to move his tent to avoid strife; Lot was not, and he ended up mixing with evil nations. (Gen. 13) Standard: flag or banner, from a root word meaning to make conspicuous—i.e., something that one cannot help but notice, or that which stands out and marks one as unique, since on the battlefield one must know where to regroup or whom to follow. Insignia of his father’s house: How are we distinguished as part of this people? What signs of our fathers’ house are named throughout Scripture? They are the signs of the covenant from which both Israel and YHWH are meant to benefit. The sign given to our first Hebrew forefather was circumcision. (Gen. 17:10) Another given to the whole people of Israel was the blood of the lamb (Ex. 12:13) and the subsequent Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Ex. 13:6ff) YHWH said the redemption of the firstborn (13:11ff) would also serve as a sign. The Sabbath is an especially prominent one. (Ex. 31:13-17) The root word for insignia means "consent" or "agreement"; we have to be in unity if we are under one banner. Daniel could read the writing when the most learned and decorated could not, because he knew Torah. Each tribe has a separate identity and is ordained for a particular task. Everyone today seems to be searching for roots--an identity, a home, and a father. Having left his family, the prodigal can never find rest anywhere else. Every human being wants to reconnect, but the natural tendency is to go back to the latest thing one was separated from, as the Protestants now rejoin the Catholics. But this is not far enough, and is poison if we stop there, because the later separations were necessary, for there is a false reunification going on simultaneous to Israel's, and all will be resolved into two "men" who will do battle. (Lev. 24) Now the whole Northern Kingdom is under the banner of Yosef (and "Messiah ben Yosef"), but one day we will need to be more specific, because the holy city can only be entered through gates that each represent one tribe. Not having such an insignia means we have no covering. At a distance: Tradition says the distance was the same as that specified in Y’hoshua 3:4—2,000 cubits, which would leave room for the Levites’ camp as detailed in the next chapter.

3. "Now on the east side, toward the rising of the sun, those of the standard of Yehudah shall encamp by their companies, and Nachshon the son of Amminadav shall be the captain of the sons of Yehudah.

East: the term (qedem) also means “ancient” in Hebrew. Qedem also means “forward” or “making progress”, and until the royal tribe moved, none of the camp could move toward its next goal. Yehudah was the first to crown David king (2 Shmuel 2:10) and the first to recognize his descendant the Messiah (Rom. 1:16; 2:10). We have looked toward their practices for leadership. We must be “oriented” toward the ancient ways for weighing ourselves against them is what tells us where we fit and whether we are in order. Again in our era, Yehudah has led the way back to the ancient homeland, giving us hope that the rest of us will get there too. (Compare Z’kharyah 12:7.) We need to ask for the eternal path. (Yirmeyahu 6:16) Whom do we ask? Those who know where it is. The sages of Yehudah can tell us much, and the road begins as near to us as the front of our Bibles. Just as satellite technology can see ancient roadways under what is now desert or overgrown jungle, digging in the Word of YHWH will be such an “archaeological adventure” that uncovers the signs that have been obscured by all the distractions built around them. Rome, famous for its paved roads that facilitated the travel of both merchants and armies, did the most to blur the ancient pathways. Even Yehudah had been toying with the ancient boundaries by this time, so we all need to get back in touch with this camp, because as we study it, we will be able to locate the way back to Tzion. (Yirm. 50)

4. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 74,600.

5. "And those who encamp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar, and Nethan'el the son of Tzuar shall be the captain of the sons of Issachar.

Next to him: literally, on him, signifying that the two other tribes depended in some ways on the head tribe.

6. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 54,400.

7. "[Also] the tribe of Z'vulun, and Eliav the son of Helon shall be the captain of the sons of Z'vulun.

8. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 57,400.

9. "So all who were mustered in the camp of Yehudah were 186,400 by their armies. These shall [be the] first [to] set out [and travel].

Yehudah had already been blessed by Yaaqov with the royal throne, and Messiah, who has already been leading many from all the tribes, unbeknownst to them, came from this tribe.

10. "On the south side [shall be] the standard of the tribe of Reuven according to their companies, and the captain of the sons of Reuven shall be Elitzur the son of Sh'dey-ur.

South: Heb., teyman, from the word for “right hand”—a connection that only makes sense if we are indeed facing east, which is the true Hebraic perspective.  

11. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 46,500.

12. "And those who encamp next to him shall be the tribe of Shim'on, and the captain of the sons of Shim'on shall be Tzurishaddai,

13. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 59,300.

14. "Then the tribe of Gad, and the captain of the sons of Gad shall be Elyasaf the son of Re’uel.

Re’uel (as contrasted with “De’uel” in 1:13): The variant may have resulted because the equivalents of "D" and "R" in Hebrew are differentiated by only one small stroke. Re’uel means “look to Elohim!” Otherwise all the groupings are laid out according to the birth-mothers of the tribal patriarchs. But since the two maidservants’ children added up to four, and Leah had six sons yet Levi was in the innermost ring of the camp, Gad (one of the maidservant Zilpah’s sons) is put in Levi’s place here. Since Levi was the bloodletter who one would have thought would make the best soldier, the only one who logically could replace Levi was the brother whose name means “troop”.

15. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 45,650.

16. "So all who were mustered in the camp of Reuven were 151,450 by their armies. And they will set out [to travel] in the second rank.

Tradition says that the "standards" or banners on each of the four sides of the Tabernacle included the colors of each of their three tribes--the same colors that were on each's tribe's engraved stone on Aharon's breastplate. Thus far Levi’s has been revived. (See photo.)  The individual tribes' flags, which made it easy for everyone to recognize his place in the camp, depicted something from that tribe's history or Yaaqov's prophecies about them:

   Reuven--red with mandrakes pictured on it
  Shim'on--green with the city of Sh'khem on it
  Levi--black, white, and red, with the urim and thummim depicted
  Yehudah--sky blue with a lion (one reason the Jewish flag is again blue)
  Issachar--blue-black with the sun and moon
  Z'vulun--white with a ship
  Dan--sapphire-colored, with a snake 
  Nafthali--pale red with a doe
  Asher--a flame, olive oil, and an olive tree
  M’nasheh--black with a re'em (an extinct animal thought to be a very strong wild ox)
  Efrayim--black (as also a tribe of Yosef) with an ox
  Binyamin--all colors with a wolf
  Gad--gray with a battalion (troop) of soldiers

17. "Then the Tent of Appointment shall set out with the company of the Levites in the midst of the camp; as they encamp, so shall they set out, [each] man in his place near their standards.

With two of the four camps ahead of it, the Tent would remain in the middle even as it traveled, symbolizing the centrality of YHWH in Israel. In his place: literally, on his hand, reminding us that our place in Israel has to do with our actions. They were "put in place" during the 49 days of the Counting of the Omer, which is the time for each member to find out where he fits, and grow to maturity in his area of specialization (as described in Ephesians 4).  

18. "On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Efrayim, according to their companies, and the captain of the sons of Efrayim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud.

History has borne out that Efrayim and his brother M’nasheh have dwelt in the westernmost parts of the world in their exile as well, and Yeshayahu specifically emphasizes that YHWH would gather His dispersed from the West (49:12). The term in Hebrew actually means “sea-ward”, which fits with the geography of Israel, with the Mediterranean on the west, but actually, the root word means “roaring”, for what roars more than the sea? But the ensign of Britain, into whose empire so much of Efrayim and M’nasheh migrated, features a roaring lion.

19. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 40,500.  

20. "And next to him shall [encamp] the tribe of M’nasheh, and the captain of the sons of M’nasheh [shall be] Gam'liEl the son of Pedahtzur.

The term “encamp” is mssing from the actual text (as compared with verses 5, 12, and 27), suggesting that there is not to be as much distinction between Efrayim and M’nasheh as between the other tribes. Together they form the “tribe” of Yosef. Those who have done the most research into where the different tribes settled have identified Efrayim as by and large in British territories, and M’nasheh mainly (though not exclusively) in North America, which is a daughter of Britain (per studies by Steve Collins, Yair Davidy, et al). In the war in Iraq, these two were closely allied in defeating the land where ancient Babylon was located. Only in the last few centuries has M’nasheh been in the far west. Although we have not been able to follow Yehudah back to the ancient place yet, YHWH is arranging the camp into its ancient juxtapositions again even while we are still in exile. Gamli’El means “Elohim will repay fully” and Pedahtzur means “the Rock has redeemed”. Y’shua said the a special way to identify those who remain with him is that they will bear much fruit (Yochanan 15:4ff—a term related to the larger western camp, Efrayim’s name, which means “doubly fruitful”. There can be no restoration of the other tribes without the kinsman-redeemer from Yehudah.

21. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 32,200.

22. "Then the tribe of Binyamin, and the captain of the sons of Binyamin [shall be] Avidan the son of Gid'oni.

23. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 35,400.

24. "All that were mustered from the camp of Efrayim were 108,100 by their armies. And they will set out [to travel] in the third position.

These were the three tribes whose mother was Rakhel. They camped on the West side. Hoshea 11:10 says Efrayim shall yet come "trembling from the West", so most of those under his standard are now in what is even called the "West" by the rest of the world. Psalm 80 speaks only of these three tribes, and links them with the "Shepherd of Israel" who will lead "Yosef" like a flock.

25. "The standard of the camp of Dan [shall be] on the north side according to their companies, and the captain of the sons of Dan shall be Akhiezer the son of Ammishaddai.

26. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 62,700.

27. "And those who encamp next to him [shall be] the tribe of Asher, and the captain of the sons of Asher [shall be] Pagiel the son of Ochran.

28. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 41,500.

29. "Then the tribe of Nafthali, and the captain of the sons of Nafthali [shall be] Akhira the son of Eynan.

30. "And his company--those who were mustered from them--were 53,400.

31. ""All that were mustered from the camp of Dan were 157,600 by their armies. And they will set out [to travel] last with their banners."

Last: or "furthest to the rear"—those most likely to be attacked by Amaleq. (Deut. 25:17-19) This is no accident, for Dan encamped on the north side; since Hebraic orientation is to the east, the north is the left side, which usually signifies one who is less favored. In Scripture, judgment and calamity also often come out of the north (e.g., Yirmeyahu 1:14), since invading armies had to come around the fertile crescent rather than attacking from the east across the desert. The "king of the north" is another name for the Counterfeit Messiah, whom Jewish tradition says is to come from the tribe of Dan, which may be why his tribe is not among those from which the 144,000 holy witnesses come in the book of Revelation. Did this whole tribe decide to remain loyal to its usurper son and therefore not remain in the True Vine, and end up cut off as Y’shua warned in Yochanan 15? But this may only be a temporary falling out, because Dan shows up again in the arrangement of the tribes in the Land in Y’hezq’El 48. The term for north means “hidden” and “dark”, but it also means a “stored-up treasure”, so great benefit may yet come from this camp as well, as it did in the days of Shimshon (Samson).

32. These are the ones mustered from the sons of Israel by the households of their fathers. The total of those mustered from the camps throughout their companies was 603,550.

33. But the Levites were not mustered among the sons of Israel, as YHWH had commanded Moshe.

34. So the descendants of Israel acted according to all that YHWH had commanded; they indeed pitched their tents according to their standards, and indeed they set out [to travel] in the same [formation], each one by his clans, according the households of his father.


1. Now these are the genealogies of Aharon and Moshe, in the day when YHWH spoke with Moshe in Mount Sinai.

Aharon and Moshe: yet Moshe’s genealogy is not mentioned below at all, only Aharon’s. In fact, the very name one of Moshe’s sons, Eliezer, is never mentioned in the Torah at all. We have to go to 1 Chron. 23:15 before we find out what it was. So how is this Moshe’s genealogy as well? The term sometimes describes a section of a chain of historical accounts to which several writers contribute, like in Genesis. This may be a part in which Aharon contributed to Moshe’s writing. As we read about Aharon’s children below, we find that they are the ones called to give up everything else and minister in YHWH’s presence. Thus, YHWH’s servants are considered synonymous with the “sons of the Torah” (for which “Moshe” is an idiom, e.g., Acts 15:21).  

2. And these are the names of Aharon's sons:

  Nadav [generous], the firstborn, and
  Avihu [He is my father],
  El'azar [Elohim has assisted], and
  Ithamar [Island of palms--possibly an oasis].

3. These are the names of Aharon's sons, the anointed cohanim whose hands he consecrated to function [in the priestly office] as cohanim.

Consecrated: or "inaugurated"; literally, “filled”. It is only their hands he set apart, not their minds as such, because they were not called to come up with innovative methods. Not their feet, because their walk (with the exception of a few specifics) is to be taught to all of Israel and is therefore not unique. Not their hearts, for all of Israel is called to have hearts set apart to YHWH. But their hands are set apart for a particular task which no one else, even in Israel, may accomplish. (Gibor) Levi’s hands were once used to avenge his sister’s honor, and YHWH now allows his sons to guard His honor in a special way. Moshe anointed them, so this is another way in which they are his sons. (v. 1) He gave them some of the authority that YHWH had given him. (Compare 11:17.) In this society, the highest-ranking are the servants. No one in Israel is more respected or honored, and no one has more authority than the priests, but their entire life is one of giving—the exact opposite of the world’s way; they never even have a vacation! Yeshua said that he (slated to be the king of reunited Israel) had come to serve and to give his life as a ransom (Mat. 20:28). “Ransom” here is from a root meaning “to loosen”, in the sense of paying a price and thus gaining ownership of what the former owner now releases his grip on. The kinsman redeemer became the master of the one he redeemed so that the latter could learn how to do things in the right way and thus avoid falling into impossible debt again. Yeshua said that if someone wants to be great, you should make him your servant, for being the servant of a servant is the best way to learn how to serve. Being free is not as high an aspiration in Israel as being a servant. His kingdom is about taking care of one another, not struggling for power over one another.

4. (But Nadav and Avihu had fallen dead in the presence of YHWH when they had offered unauthorized fire in YHWH's presence in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children, so El'azar and Ithamar served as cohanim while Aharon their father was present.)

All of Aharon’s sons had great names, but two did not live up to them. Unauthorized fire is a symbol of wrong motivation—one having nothing to do with the service of YHWH. Their names mean “generous” and “El is my Father”. So we have to ask, what is our motive for generosity? Or for calling YHWH our Father? Is He just the one who “pays the bills”? El’azar’s name gives credit to Elohim instead of an assumption that one is superior because he has a special calling. And Ithamar’s connection to palm trees, in light of Psalm 92:12, symbolizes one who is righteous and upright and usually grows in groups rather than isolation. While Aharon…was present: After losing his first two sons due to their misdemeanor, he would certainly wish to keep a close watch on everything his remaining sons were doing. 

5. Then YHWH spoke to Moshe, saying,

6. "Bring the tribe of Levi near and present them before Aharon the cohen, that they may wait on him.

Bring near: the same Hebrew term used of the offerings that would be brought to these men as soon as their job began. So they themselves were a special gift from Israel to YHWH—not to be consumed on the altar, but to be dedicated to His service for their whole lives. Thus they enabled others to draw near to Him as well, which is the very thing mankind lost when Adam began hiding from YHWH instead. Wait on: has the sense of menial labor, and accommodating to the needs of another. It is putting oneself in a lower position than the other. The root meaning is to contribute. At this time there were only three actual priests in existence, and Aharon and his sons were held accountable if anyone profaned the sanctuary or its implements, so he clearly needed the assistance of many others to keep defiled persons away from the set-apart area. YHWH considered this so important that a whole tribe was designated to serve them.  

7. "And they shall keep guard over him and [be in] charge of any [from] the congregation [who came] before the Tent of Appointment, to carry out the service of the Dwelling Place.

They are Aharon’s personal bodyguards—a whole tribe designated to make sure the wrong people do not come close so that he will not become defiled and unable to carry out this service for the whole nation. Also, by keeping the Tabernacle in the proper condition so it could reveal YHWH's nature in the best possible way, they did more to safeguard the well-being of Israel than did the army (which any nation has). They made sure all Israel would be watchful to guard their gates from the sin that crouches at the door. 

8. "And they shall keep guard over all the equipment of the Tent of Appointment, and be in charge of what the descendants of Israel entrust to them to carry out the [spiritual] service of the Dwelling Place.

Service: literally servitude or slavery (they could not even own land of their own) but not in a mistreated sense. It was an honor to be YHWH’s special slaves. As David said, it is better to be a doorkeeper in His house than to heap up treasure outside. (Ps. 84:10) They are to ensure that the right things go into the set-apart vessels (a picture of what we are meant to be) and that they are used in the right way—that no one puts any of them to common use.

9. "Thus you shall dedicate the Levites to Aharon and his sons; from among the descendants of Israel, they are appointed [specifically] to him.

10. "And when you appoint Aharon and his sons, they shall guard the priestly office, and anyone else who comes near must be put to death."

Put to death: Axnything other than YHWH’s order will bring death in one way or another, so YHWH lets anyone who wants to usurp their place be cut down before he affects the whole camp.

11. And YHWH spoke to Moshe, saying, 

12. "Look here! I Myself have selected the Levites from among the sons of Israel in place of the firstborn who opens the womb among the descendants of Israel; therefore the Levites shall be Mine,

In place of: YHWH recognized that the firstborn (who, according to the common practice all over the ancient near east, hitherto had served as priests in their own families) were more needed in their own households, especially if their fathers had died or were no longer capable of bringing the offering. But someone had to do this job, so He substituted the Levites instead of having all the firstborn, who might not be as well-trained, act in the same role at the central sanctuary. Mine: yet verse 9 says that they belong to Aharon. (Compare Lev. 23:20; Yochanan 16:15; 17:10) A high percentage of the frontrunners in the return of the Northern Kingdom have turned out to be firstborn, as servants to those who follow, though if the eldest does not fulfill his calling, YHWH will select someone else.

13. "because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck [down] all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I set apart for Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from man to beast. They are Mine; I am YHWH."

YHWH says He gave up the people of Egypt in order to ransom Israel (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 43:3,4); this provides a Scriptural basis for the concept of YHWH taking one person as a payment for another. Israel's firstborn took the place of Egypt's, who had died. In order to do them justice, He has a right to require something extra from the people for whom they died. The same is true of those redeemed by Yeshua. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

14. Then YHWH spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, saying,

15. "Number the children of Levi [according] to the households of their fathers, by their clans; every male [of] them from a month old and upward you shall count."

In all the other tribes, men were only counted if they were of age to serve in the army (20 to 50 years of age), but Levites were consecrated nearly from birth.  But they have to see one new moon--one complete cycle of "rebirth" (for the Hebrew phrase for “a month old” is actually “son of a renewal”)--before they are counted, because the job of the priest is to make sure Israel is constantly renewed, bringing her out of darkness and into light again. Even rulers in Israel must be born again to see the Kingdom. (Yoch. 3:7-10)

16. So Moshe numbered them according to the word of YHWH, as he was commanded,

17. and these were the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon, Q'hath, and Merari,

18. and these are the sons of Gershon by their clans: Livni [whiteness] and Shim'i [renown];

19. and the sons of Q'hath, by their clans: Amram, Yitzhar, Hevron, and Uzziel;

Q’hath means “an assembly”, and his sons’ names, respectively, mean “an exalted people”, “anointing oil”, “a great society of like-minded people”, and “Elohim is my strength”. Assembling together is for the purpose of bringing forth these qualities, which is why we are not to forsake assembling on the appointments He has set. (Heb. 10:25)

20. and the sons of Merari, by their clans: Machli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites by their fathers' households.

Merari means “bitterness”, and bitterness does indeed beget “sickliness” and “oversensitivity”.

21. Belonging to Gershon are the family of the Livnites and the family of the Shim'ites. These are the clans of the Gershonites.

22. Those of them who were numbered, according to the count of all the males from a month old and upward--their men totaled 7,500.

23. The families of the Gershonites are to pitch their tents behind the Tabernacle to the west.

This is the side of the Tabernacle on which those under Efrayim's banner encamped. So the names of the Gershonites correlate with a prophecy about Efrayim, who is called YHWH’s firstborn (Yirmeyahu 31:9) and therefore has a special connection with priestly duty. One of them is “renown”. Tz’fanyah 3:20 says that as king of Israel (which includes Efrayim), YHWH will give us a name and praise among all the peoples of the earth, specifically when He restores those of us who were taken captive (correlating with Gershon’s name, meaning “exile”). Our exile is meant to bring forth purity (the meaning of Livni, “whiteness”; Yeshua clarifies in Rev. 3:4 and 19:8 that white garments symbolize the righteous actions of the set-apart ones). It did its work once; when Yeshua came, many of the exiles were willing to receive him, but then for the most part turned back to the things that had earned us exile in the first place. But today we have another open door to return from exile, by which Elohim has added to Israel more from the nations into which we were scattered:

24. The ruler of the father’s household for the Gershonites [was] Elyasaf [Elohim has added], the son of Lael [belonging to Elohim].

25. And the office of the sons of Gershon in the Tent of Appointment is to watch over the Tabernacle, the tent that covers it, and the screen for the entryway of the Tent of Appointment,

Again the Tabernacle (literally, Dwelling Place--which Solomon said the whole world itself could not comprise in a physical sense) and the tent are listed as two different things.

26. and the drapes of the courtyard, and the screen for the entry opening of the courtyard which is by the Tabernacle and by the altar, all around, and its ropes for all its service.

Everything the Gershonites were in charge of was a type of covering. Those in exile, therefore, are responsible to become a covering. Yehudah will not be able to overcome its enemies until we provide one. (Ovadyah 18)

27. And for Q'hath are the family of the Amramites, the family of the Yitzharites, the family of the Hevronites, and the family of the Uzzielites; these are the clans of the Q'hathites.

28. In number, all the all the males from a month old and upwards, were 8,600--safeguarders of the duty of the sanctuary.

29. The families of the sons of Q'hath were to pitch their tents on the southward side of the Tabernacle.

Southward: meaning on the “right hand”. Moshe and Aharon, YHWH’s “right-hand men”, were Q’hathites.

30. The ruler of the father’s household for the families of the Q'hathites [was] Elitzafan the son of Uzziel,

31. and their responsibility was the ark, the table, the menorah, the altars, the instruments of the Holy Place with which they serve, the screen, and all the equipment needed to make them work.

The people of the assembly are in charge of the furniture of the Temple, each piece of which is a picture of the unified people of Israel -- a resting-place where YHWH Himself is comfortable. When we gather on His day off, He rests too.

32. El'azar the son of Aharon was chief over the rulers of the Levites, having oversight over those who watch over the duties of the Holy Place.

No such special calling seems to have been given to Ithamar, but El’azar was now the firstborn.

33. For Merari were the family of the Machlites and the family of the Mushites; these are the clans of Merari,

34. and those of them who were numbered, according to the count of all the males from a month old and upward, were 6,200.

35. The ruler of the father’s household for the families of Merari is Tzuriel the son of Avikhayil; they were to pitch their tents on the northward side of the Tabernacle.

Tzuriel: "My rock is Elohim"; Avikhayil: "My father is capable". They continue to make this claim, though their fathers are actually sickly and oversensitive (v. 20). On the “left hand”, this side of the camp is symbolic of those in Israel who comprise the house of the counterfeit messiah.

36. The appointed jurisdiction of the sons of Merari [is over] the boards [planks] of the Tabernacle, and its poles and pillars and their socket-pedestals, and all the equipment needed to make them work,

37. and the pillars that [go] all around the courtyard, and their pedestals, and their stakes, and their ropes.

Those who are “bitter” are given the job of caring for what holds everything together, for this is the kind of work that will heal them. Their part had to be in place first when setting up a new camp, before anyone else could do his work. When we take on responsibility for one another, there is no room left for bitterness or sickliness, so if you find yourself becoming depressed, the remedy is to find someone to serve! If they had stuck to these responsibilities in second Temple times, much of the jockeying for position that precipitated the sibling rivalry that the rabbis blame for the destruction of the Temple could have been avoided. We must do better this time around.

38. But those who were to encamp in front of the Tabernacle to the east--before the Tent of Appointment toward the sun's rising, were Moshe, Aharon, and his sons, to watch over the functioning of the Sanctuary for the safeguarding of the descendants of Israel; and anyone alien [to it] who approaches shall be put to death.

It may not have been a tautology to say that the east was where the sun rose; there is some reason scientifically to believe that the direction of the turning of the earth may have changed at some point(s) in history, and the legends of other lands point toward the time of the Exodus, in which case it would truly be a relatively new phenomenon. On this side were only Moshe and the priests themselves, because they were charged with the special responsibility of guarding the gateway to the sanctuary and thus protecting the whole house. (v. 10) Again, Moshe symbolizes the Torah. Linked with the camp of Yehudah, we see in this juxtaposition a prophecy that, while we were in exile, the Jews would indeed be the ones who would preserve for all Israel the Torah. (Mal. 2:7) Yehudah is called YHWH’s lawgiver (Psalm 60:9); the men of Yissakhar understood the times to know what Israel should do (1 Chron. 12:32)—also correlating with priests. And from Z’vulun, D’vorah says, come those who wield the scribe’s quill. (Judges 5:14) So there is a reason for each group’s relative location.

39. All those numbered of the Levites, whom Moshe and Aharon counted at the word [mouth] of YHWH, according to their clans--all the males from a month old and upward--were 22,000.

Verse 46 regards this as an exact count, but when we add up the numbers in verses 22, 28, and 34, the total comes to 22,300. Jewish tradition says the additional 300 were the firstborn among the Levites, who therefore were not eligible to redeem other firstborn Israelites.

40. Then YHWH said to Moshe, "Count every firstborn male of the sons of Israel from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names,

41. "and you shall take possession of the Levites for Me (I am YHWH) in place of the firstborn from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites' cattle instead of all the firstlings of the animals of the descendants of Israel."

This is why the firstborn have to be redeemed if a family wants to retain the use of their strength. (Ex. 34:20) Here, redemption constituted someone taking their place—a foreshadowing of the one who would redeem us by taking our place.

42. So Moshe numbered, as YHWH commanded him, all the firstborn among the sons of Israel,

43. and all the firstborn males of those who were counted among them, by the total of [their] names, from a month old and upward, were 22,273.

Some commentators point out that this is only 1 out of 27 Israelite men (though only those over 20 were counted in the 603,550, so the actual number of males a month old and upward might have been nearly double that). Some explanations given for this very low ratio of firstborn are that Israel had huge families while in Egypt, roughly half of the firstborn would have been female and not counted, and/or that some families lost firstborn sons to the death angel along with the Egyptians because they did not obey the command to put the lamb’s blood on their doors.

44. Then YHWH spoke to Moshe, saying,

45. "Select the Levites in place of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel, and the Levites' cattle in place of their animals; thus the Levites shall be Mine. I am YHWH.

46. "And for those who are to be ransomed--the 273 firstborn of the sons of Israel who exceed the [number of] Levites,

47. "you shall collect five sheqels apiece--[one] for [each] skull; you shall collect them according to the sheqel of the Sanctuary (twenty gerahs per sheqel).

Five sheqels: the price of a child under five years old who was vowed to YHWH. (Num. 18:15; Lev. 27:6) Only the first generation (with the exception of these 273) did not have to pay the extra five sheqels, because we see Miryam, Yeshua's mother, paying five sheqels after his birth. Our firstborn are owed to YHWH to compensate Him for the loss of the Egyptian firstborn. (v. 13) He substituted the Levites so they could all be trained together as a unit and have the same level of expertise, which might not hold true for every household. This was to “balance the books”, catching up the accounts for what was past due, then setting it in order to keep going in the right pattern thereafter. Subsequent generations would all pay the ransom instead of taking a census each time, since births do not occur in neat intervals. While we are still without an active priesthood, we might actually be able to actually dedicate our sons to YHWH rather than paying to keep them for ourselves.   Gerahs: literally, "kernels". Ten gerahs, then, equal half a sheqel. The temple tax is a half sheqel per person, so five sheqels is the price of ten people—symbolic of a whole congregation. The ten are two pairs of five, reminding us that none of us is complete without other members of the community. Verse 7 said the Levites' job was to safeguard the Dwelling Place, which is YHWH’s people (v. 25) more than the tent or temple. This is also the job of the congregation. But the root word of "gerah" is "garar"--to bring up the cud”. Chewing the cud is a picture of meditating on YHWH's word (Y’hoshua 1:8). Doing so alone yields much learning, but meditating on it together with the rest of Israel will yield many times more growth. It takes a whole congregation to make each person mature. To be considered "cud", something must already have been digested once so we are ready to teach those younger still.

48. "Then you shall donate the money with which the surplus of them are to be ransomed to Aharon and his sons.

Since there were no people to take their place, one for one, they had to pay in silver, which is often seen as a substitute for blood.  YHWH provided a man to substitute for many as a ransom (Mat. 20:28), but there is still something to be filled up by the suffering of some of his followers for others. (Colossians 1:24)

49. So Moshe collected the ransom money from those who were in excess of those redeemed by the Levites:

50. From the firstborn of the sons of Israel he collected [this] payment: 1,365 sheqels according to the sheqel of the Sanctuary.

Already they had a reward for giving up all to serve YHWH exclusively.

51. And Moshe gave the money from those who were ransomed to Aharon and his sons, according to the mouth [word] of YHWH, just as YHWH had commanded him.


1. Then YHWH spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying,

2. "Lift up the head of the sons of Q'hath from the midst of the sons of Levi according to their clans, by their fathers' households

Lift up the head: an idiom for "count the total" and “take note of”. It also suggests having them look you in the eyes and make sure they are paying close attention, because what you are about to tell them about the tasks assigned to them is a matter of life and death. (v. 18) They cannot get it wrong. Each one who is counted has more people attached to him; if there is sin in the household, it affects everyone in it. No one can be counted as part of two different houses, so reckoning where we stand also defines who we are not.

3. "from 30 years old and upward as far as 50 years of age--all who enter the service--to carry out the [representative] work of the Tent of Appointment.

Service: actually the word for “army” or “command”, based on the word for “order”. Though the Levites were not in Israel’s regular armed forces, they were in YHWH’s service, and what they did was meant to motivate the physical warriors to protect this precious national treasure. They would only physically fight if the wrong people came too close to the holy objects they were in charge of. Their main job as Levites (those “attached”) is to teach the rest of Israel how to be attached to YHWH. Representative work: related to a word for “messenger”, and indeed they are acting on behalf of Aharon and his sons, but also on behalf of YHWH Himself. At root, the phrase can be read as, “Produce the message”. Holiness, the commands, and the order in the camp are all part of the message YHWH wants to communicate through this Tent. It also represents something more complete which would come later. This work is really an acting out of a picture rather than providing a completely even balancing of the scales, because an animal, no matter how expensive, can never substitute for a man. But every detail of this work “messages” us about some aspect of what the Messiah would actually accomplish.  Appointment: the same word used for YHWH’s festivals. Thus when we practice them, we are warring for Israel, because even as we learn from them as rehearsals of the Kingdom, we are actually establishing the Kingdom, because as we celebrate them together, they teach us to be unified. Though the Levites were counted from the time they were a month old (3:15), they did not begin active service until 30, and thus they had this entire period to be trained. Perfection required so long even in Yeshua, who did not have the handicap of the sin of Adam.  The Hebrew letter lamed has the numeric value of 30, and its name is based on the word for “learn”. (Compare Hebrews 5:8.) By the time they reach 30, it is time to do the actual work. Men from other tribes can enter the army at age 20, but the Levites require an additional ten years before fully vested with their duties, for this job requires more maturity than any other work in Israel. This correlates with the command not to eat from trees younger than five years old, and Paul’s advice to Timothy not to let a novice (literally, “newly-planted” person) teach. (1 Tim. 3:6) David also began to reign at age 30, and Yosef was given rule over all of Egypt at this age. David seems to have lowered the age of formal Levitical service to twenty when the Temple was being prepared, probably since many more hands would be needed for the larger structure. But he may simply have been mandating a decade of formal training, undoubtedly under those who had passed age 50 and could teach the rising priests from their experience. (8:25-26) 30 to 50 is the period of their fullest strength, when they are most capable of carrying things.  

4. "This will be the responsibility of the sons of Q'hath in the Tent of Appointment: the most holy [items].

Theirs are the items set apart even from other things that are set apart. Like those with access to and responsibility for the most highly classified secret weapons or the keys to the nuclear missile launchers, they have to be taken extremely seriously and carried out with the utmost of caution and respect. They must know how to do their job not just correctly but perfectly, for there are grave consequences if they do not (vv. 18-20).

5. "And when the camp sets out [to depart], Aharon shall come with his sons, and they shall take down the hanging [screening] veil and cover the Ark of Testimony with it,

The veil doubled as a cover for the Ark when traveling, making their packing even more efficient.

6. "and place a covering of takhash skins on it, and spread over it a cloth dyed completely [bright] blue, and put its staves in [place].

Takhash: related to nakhash, the serpent, which really means "shining one". Takhash skin is now thought to have been an animal skin embedded with a variety of precious stones. The word "cloth" here actually means “cloak” or "garment”; it is covering something that depicts a Body with many members. The “new Jerusalem” (built of living stones) is adorned with “every precious stone” (Rev. 21:9-21)—and YHWH’s estranged former bride (who became nakhash) is described in the same way. (Y’hezq’El/Ezek. 28:12-15) It is clear that one is replacing another that had the same role.   The kh’ruvim on the Ark represent our intimacy with YHWH (which the “anointed kh’ruv which covers” lost, per Y’hezq’el 28:14), and thus the Ark is veiled like a bride. The Torah that is kept inside it is our marriage contract, or ketubah. The takhash skin was also a weatherproofing. Blue: a particular shade called teheleth, which represents the heavens as the seat of YHWH’s throne, as well as the witnesses in the sky that define our seasons and patterns of worship. The dye itself originated from a sea animal. Israel is to wear this color as an appendage to our clothing (Num. 15:38) to remind us that we are bound to obey His commandments, much as a wedding ring is used today. Only the ark had the blue as the outermost covering, for it was the article of furniture kept directly in His presence, and the covering would remind Israel that the covenant is what He holds dearest. All the furnishings that men put their hands to were covered differently; the Ark’s covering itself tells us it represents YHWH most directly.

7. "And over the Table of the Faces they shall spread a garment dyed blue, and on it they shall set the platters, spoons, bowls, and jugs for the libation, and the regular bread shall be on top of it.

8. "And they shall spread over them a garment of crimson-scarlet and in turn conceal it with a covering of takhash skins, and put its staves inside.

These coverings were not mentioned when all the directions were being given for the construction of the Tabernacle. So Moshe had to take this need into account before he told the people to stop bringing materials because there was enough. Crimson-scarlet symbolizes blood, which Torah links more with life than death. It covers this particular kind of bread, which symbolizes all twelve tribes in union and face-to-face fellowship with YHWH (since the bread was shaped like the two kh’ruvim facing each other). There can be no unity and no kingdom until we lay down our lives—that is, dedicate them to the same priorities Yeshua had. 

9. "Then they shall take a garment dyed blue and cover the illuminating menorah, its oil-lamps, its snuffers, its firepans, and all the oil-vessels with which they care for it.

Snuffers: or wick tongs, a type of tweezers used to draw the wick in the desired direction while in the lamps. Firepans: Small scoops with a level rather than rounded bottom and walled sides, used to remove the ashes from the lamps.

10. "And they shall place it and all its equipment inside a covering of takhash skins, and put it [in place] on a carrying-bar.

Covering: traditionally seen as a large sack. Carrying bar: A flexible rod on which items could be hung. The same term is used for what the “spies” carried the huge cluster of grapes back on from the Valley of Eshqol. (13:23)

11. "And over the golden altar they shall spread a garment dyed blue, then conceal it with a covering of takhash skins, and put its staves inside.

The altar of incense symbolizes prayer, and so of course it is linked with the heavens (blue), but it is concealed. This is probably the passage that inspired Ywshua’s teaching about praying in secret instead of out on the street corners. (Mat. 6:4)

12. "Then they shall take all the service equipment with which they care for the Sanctuary, set them within a garment dyed blue, enclose them in a covering of takhash skins, and put it [in place] on a carrying-bar.

13. "Then they shall remove the ashes from the altar and spread a purple garment over it,

Altar: That is, the brass altar that sat outside the Tabernacle. Why a purple garment, unlike all the rest, which were “clothed” in blue? Purple is the color of the wealthy and royalty of the earth. But the altar is the only piece of furniture mentioned here that was not inside the tent. It was the place for the application of the blood of the animals that those bringing them had identified themselves with, as a picture of the need to surrender our lives before we can draw near to YHWH. As the thing that confronts us before we can enter YHWH’s presence, it symbolizes Y’shua, our mediator, who was covered by the Romans with a purple garment that was then taken off him (Mark 15:15ff), for the altar could not be used while it was covered. It is not covered with the blue robe of heaven, for Y’shua would not wear YHWH’s clothing.

14. "and place on it all of its equipment with which they care for it--the firepans, the fleshhooks [forks], the shovels, the basins, and the utensils of the altar--then spread over it a covering of takhash skins and put its staves inside.

Thus when the procession set out, there would be one item with a blue outer covering, and five items (or categories) with a bejeweled outer covering—one “groom” preceding five “brides”. The number five reminds us of the Torah, but in the wedding context, Y’shua spoke of five of the bride’s attendants being ready to meet her, but there are ten in total—the symbol of an entire congregation. Thus only half are ready to meet the Groom. Rashi says the firepans mentioned here were used to rake the coals while separating them from the ashes. The fleshhooks were pokers used to prod the limbs of the animals amd turn them over so they would be cooked or consumed properly and quickly.

15. "Then when Aharon and his sons have finished concealing the Sanctuary and all the equipment of the Sanctuary, the whole camp is to set out [to travel]. After that, the sons of Q'hath shall come to carry [them], but they shall not touch what is holy, lest they die. These are the burden of the sons of Q'hath in the Tent of Appointment.

Concealing: because Israelites have a penchant for worshipping fancy gold things, but none of these things were meant to be worshipped, but to depict great spiritual truths about YHWH, who is the only one to be worshipped. The one time the Ark was treated as a “luck charm” in battle, it was taken away. Undue reverence even for the things of YHWH makes Him jealous. Burden: what they are responsible to carry, but also the heavy responsibility of moving these items without directly touching the holy things that were under wraps to all but a chosen few at this time. The priests were only to cover this category of equipment; the other equipment was covered by those who carried it.

16. "And the oil for the illumination, the sweet-spiced incense, the regular grain offering, the anointing oil, and the oversight of the Tabernacle and all that is in it (whether the Sanctuary or its equipment) are in the custody of El'azar the son of Aharon, the priest."

El’azar also had oversight of the rulers of the Levites, his kinsmen who worked in the Tabernacle. (3:32)

17. Then YHWH spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying,

18. "Do not let the staff of the clans of the Q'hathites be cut off from among the Levites.

Aharon was not planning to kill them, but if he does not actively do what He tells him next, someone will die (v. 15):

19. "Rather, do this for them so they may survive and not be slain when they get close to the most holy things: Aharon and his sons shall go in and appoint to each man his service and his responsibility.

Each was given a very specific assignment, so that they would each know who they were, and who they were not. It was not safe for them to carry out any task other than what was prescribed for them. They only handled these items when they were packed up to travel; the priests were the only ones who handled them when they were actually in use. Aharon is responsible to instruct them properly so that they do not make errors with things designed to picture YHWH’s perfection. There is no other safety net. There is no room for slackness today either, because the same picture needs to be seen again. Mistakes will be made along the way, but we need to do something to repair them, hoping this is not the time YHWH’s patience will run out. The central command to Israel is sh’ma—listen closely! Get it right. When given your specific aassignment, do not try to use it as an expression of self, for that is what got us in trouble in the first place. If we change the way we were told to do it, death will come somehow. Listen to every detail, because that is how we see the Kingdom. At all times we are either doing things the way we were told, or another way. Everyone must answer to someone lest our own preferences creep in and color things. We cannot take liberties with the things of the Kingdom.

20. "But they may not go in to watch when the holy things are [being] covered up, lest they die."

Their cousins were free to look upon those things, but these men were very special to YHWH, and He did not wish to have to slay any of them, so He gave them additional precautionary "fences" to stay outside of so they would be sure not to meet the same end as Nadav and Avihu had. But except for the Ark, these things were visible when the outer veil to the tent was open, and the altar was outside the Tent for everyone bringing an offering to see; why was it a problem to be seen now? Because just as the public is not invited to a rehearsal or even a sound-check session, when glitches are still being worked out, but only to the actual, perfected performance so that the “magic” is not lost among the details of the delivery, these things are not to be seen when traveling through the world, lest they be treated as in any way less than holy. The menorah was not to be mistaken for a mere street light! To look at them out of context might make people forget their specific function, and that would bring confusion, just as the New Testament is always misinterpreted when not viewed from a Hebraic mindset. 
(Numbers 1:1-4:20)
INTRODUCTION:    This fourth book of Moshe begins place in the 13th month after the Exodus from Egypt. 13 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “united”, and now, one month after the Tabernacle was inaugurated and some additional “weeding” has been done, Israel is now in a position to live in this unity. The wilderness setting parallels the uncharted territory we encounter on our way home from exile, as well as the parts of ourselves that are not yet developed. In such times of unclarity, we need first to listen to what YHWH wants to tell us through them. The literal meaning of b’midbar is “place of words or speaking”. We can learn to listen to Him in smaller “places of the word”. Whenever you feel like you are isolated, start listening carefully.  

YHWH told us the purpose of the wilderness in Deut. 8:16. It is to feed us with food our fathers did not know—new insights and nuances that even the patriarchs did not notice, because they were all individuals, but now He has a whole people operating as one unit. We hear and see much more if all of us are paying attention and contributing what we have heard. If we all gather as much “manna” as we are meant to, we will have all the nourishment that any of us needs.  

Deut. 8 also says the wilderness is to make us humble (anah), which does not mean pretending to have no strengths, but to be “grounded”—in touch with where we are standing, having a realistic appraisal of our strengths as well as our weaknesses. But don’t let the weaknesses hold you back. There are times to withdraw and regroup, but only so we can come back and win the battle we were losing. As we each gather our omer, we discover where we are most valuable in the community. Magnify the things you are better at, so that the rest of us can learn what you know. But the root meaning of anah is “to pay attention”. As with the Sabbath, it is often easier to tune in to Him when we step outside our ordinary routines, as He got Moshe’s attention in the wilderness (Ex. 3:2). This is where He espoused Israel as His bride. (Yirmeyahu 2:2) When we gather for His appointments—the parallel to the tent here—we are in a place to hear from Him on such an intimate level.  

The wilderness is to test us (Deut. 8:16), as He did with Yeshua there (Mat. 4), since other voices besides YHWH’s are there as well. Yeshua’s response to them was the very words that YHWH had given to Israel in the wilderness. The test is not so He will know what we are, but so we will know where we stand and where we need to improve. Each such reckoning equips us to move on to the next “station” at which we “camp”. Thus far, not enough of Israel is gathered to even leave Goshen, but there are many ways we can learn to hear even there so we are ready to move out, and the more we learn now, the less likely we are to need 40 years in the wilderness again this time. But He said He would bring the Northern Kingdom into the wilderness, plead with us face to face, make us His flock again, and purge the rebels out from among us so they will not enter His Land. (Y’hezq’el/Ezek. 20:30ff) Eliyahu came to the wilderness of Sinai when he felt alone against an adversary (1 Kings 19:3ff), and he, too, was fed unexpected food there. After several cataclysmic demonstrations of His power, YHWH finally spoke to him in the tiniest whisper—so do not waste time seeking grandiose experiences. This is what the study of YHWH’s word is to do to us. As we break it down into its most basic parts, it does the same to us. What is He teaching us by what occurs? Stop looking to tornadoes, firestorms, and earthquakes for answers, stop pitying ourselves, and look for the others who do fear Him. There were others about whom Eliyahu did not know; they were well-hidden, because He does not keep treasure in plain sight when there are adversaries around. Eliyahu should have been looking for them instead of pitying himself. What He wants to do through Israel is beyond anything we can imagine. Who would believe the kings of the earth would send treasure to Jerusalem to be used for YHWH’s Temple? But some have already done so.  

When we have tuned in to His voice and the wilderness has done its work, we will be home where He can again walk among us—just as He did in Eden. We will never see the value in going into the wilderness if we think we are already in the Promised Land. “Hear, O Israel” is not just a mental exercise; it is the kind of listening you would do if a dying pirate was about to tell you where he had hidden his treasure. And what He says to us is more than treasure. If we quiet our own minds and listen to what YHWH is saying, we will know what it takes to become His treasure.
Know Who You are 
and Where You Stand

From the remake of the TV series Roots to, there is a resurgence of interest in where one comes from. It is particularly important for those of us who have recently realized that we, too, are Israel, for this brings with it responsibilities that we were not aware of before. But once within that general framework, what can we do that will count the most? How can we use our lives in a way that will increase both the strength and value of Israel—to YHWH and to the world?

All of these themes stand out in this portion: Ancestry, Counting, and Order. And they all help us identify where we fit.

As seen here and many other places in Scripture, a strong family identity is clearly the norm in Israel. All other things being equal (barring the need for extreme correctives, at times when prophets are called up to do things unconscionable in quieter times), it seems that the most effective place for us is within our own fathers’ household—building on the foundations they have given us, standing on their shoulders, taking advantage of the advances they have made, so that we can proceed higher still. I.e., while we should strive to go beyond them as we gain more light than they may have had, we should do everything possible to improve on their records without opposing them, and certainly never dishonoring them, in the process.

Each person selected to fight on behalf of Israel was told to “declare his ancestry”. (1:18) We fight—or exert ourselves—on many levels, but this seems to say that there is a healthy place for being proud of our parentage and pedigree. (That also behooves us to live in such a way that our children will be pleased to be called by our name.) If for some valid reason you cannot, then look further back--to the noble heritage of patriarchs who are worthy of honor and emulating--rather than looking for identity through some other association.

In this portion we see YHWH substituting the Levites for the firstborn of each household. But the default, this tells us, is that at times when the Levites do not have a context or training to do so, the firstborn is the family’s “priest”. That term means “officiator”, but it carries the connotation of helping others relate or connect to YHWH. If you are a firstborn, that is your place in the natural order, whether you accomplish it through explanation, prayer, persuasion, or, dare we say, sacrifice? That might not mean exactly what it meant here, in the Tabernacle. In English, the word suggests putting aside our own ambitions so that another can simply survive. In Hebrew, it implies helping someone else come closer—and that might mean closer to his fellow human beings as well as to YHWH, for ideally the two goals are not in conflict.

But people don’t always like to be set in order, thinking it makes their lives too rigid and cramps their style. But what if we didn’t have rules about which side of the road to drive on, or who should stop first at a four-way stop? We would have chaos—deadly chaos.  

And the same was true here. “So that you may not die” (4:15, 19) is the reason given for some of these commands (which could just as well be translated “orders”, being based on the word for an army, which operates with the most order of any entity, again for the sake of survival). We know from the incident involving Uzza about 500 years later (1 Chron. 13:7ff) that someone who touched the Ark of the Covenant, rather than following the instructions given here about coverings and poles (4:5-6, et al), would literally end up dead. There might be some dispute as to whether it was YHWH’s direct reaction or just the nature and properties of the way the box was built that conducted a lethal force. But the bottom line was the same.

So particular people are put in charge to make sure no one else comes near and gets hurt. (3:10; 4:16) And so they will not fight over the better jobs, the high priest, whose choice is not to be disputed, hand-picks the men for each job (4:19). This both maintains decorum and fosters comraderie, because when we are competing with one another instead of with our own less-than-perfect record, we lose focus on many levels and mistakes are more easily made, besides creating a high-strung atmosphere, which is the opposite of shalom.

So aim high, but when you find the heaven-ordained niche where you do belong, settle in and learn to love it, and you will thrive and help the rest of us do the same.
Study questions:

1. Now that there had been a first anniversary of Passover (Num. 1:1), what appears to have been the next thing on the agenda? (Why were the people numbered? See 1:3)

2. Why would those who were well-known (1:16-17) be chosen for this task?

3. Why do you think it was important to know how many came from each tribe and each clan? (1:18)

4. About what percentage of the people do you think these men of war (age 20 to 60) was? (1:18 et al) On this basis (using the total given in 2:32), what might you estimate the entire population of Israel at his time to have been?

5. Why were the Levites not among those who went to war? (1:49-53) Do you think others envied them? Considering what occurred when Nadav and Avihu made one mis-step (Lev. 10), which job do you think was really the more difficult?

6. Why did it matter which side of the Dwelling Place each tribe camped on? (2:3, 10, 18, 25) When would this begin to make a practical difference? (2:34; compare chapter 10)

7. What was the job of the entire tribe of Levi (3:3-9)? What special responsibility did Aharon’s descendants alone have? (3:10)

8. If the Levites took the place of the firstborn of Israel as specially belonging to YHWH, what role does this suggest the firstborn had before that time? (3:12-13)

9. Can you see any relationship between where each Levite clan camped and their particular tasks? (3:23-38)

10. How was the Israelite census a balance between the personal and the impersonal or collective? (3:40)

11. Why did the Israelites who did not have a Levite to substitute for them need to be redeemed? (3:45-48)

12. Why the difference between numbering the Levites and those they replaced from a month old and upwards (3:15, 40) and numbering the sons of Q’hath from 30 years and up? (4:2-4)

13. What are two reasons the holy articles used inside the Tent of Appointment were covered up when taken “out of context” for transport? (4:7-20)

14. Why could only Aharon and his sons ever see the holiest items? (4:5-20) How does this help you form a better picture of what holiness means?
Companion Passage:
Hoshea 2:1-22 
The Sidewalk
for Kids

Here we see something new going on. YHWH says to count all the men who are of the right age to go to war, by name and according to what family and tribe they are from. Then he says to count again, this time only the firstborn son in each family, and to count the Levites. The number was almost exactly the same, and what He did then was to make a trade—the Levites would do the job that the firstborn sons had been doing in each family up until that time: being the priests, or the ones who represented the whole family to YHWH (sometimes by bringing an offering) and who represented YHWH to the family (by teaching them about Him).

If He used just people from one clan, they could all have the same purpose and all be trained together more easily to learn the same things, and this would help them do their job better than having people trained by different parents, probably in different ways, come and argue about which was the right way to do it. It would also keep those other families from envying their firstborn brother the way Yosef’s brothers envied him.

So do you see? YHWH thought some people would do better in certain positions than in others. He hand-picked some people for some of the jobs we see in this Torah portion, rather than letting people elect them or even letting Moshe choose the ones he thought might do the job well, like he did on other occasions. YHWH knows who can do what, and who can do it best, because He gave us our abilities. If He makes changes that we don’t think are fair, we have to trust Him because He can see the big picture better than any of us. Like somebody looking down from a high mountain, He can see what needs to be moved around where to make everything work best, and it might be uncomfortable if we can’t see why He is doing it.

Some of the people who got moved around—especially the Levites--didn’t get to live normal lives. They had a special job and they had to concentrate on that, with no distractions. The Levites didn’t even get counted with the rest of Israel, just as later in this book we see that Israel doesn’t get counted among the other nations.

That might not seem fair, but it was because they have a different job to do. YHWH gave them special recognition, and a reward that is something like nobody else got when they divided up the Land. He said He Himself would be their inheritance, just as He told Avraham that He would be his reward. (15:1) YHWH Himself! What could be better than that? What could even come close?

Well, now, here’s where this matters to you. YHWH put you in a particular family for a reason. He made you part of the people of Israel for a reason. You have a particular job to do. If you don’t get picked for what you think would be the best job you could get, it’s because He picked you for something else—something He knows will be better.

As we get closer to the time when YHWH says we are going to have another Exodus to the Land of Israel (this time, not just from one country but from every country on earth), our lives are going to get shaken up. As we travel back to where we are supposed to be, we won’t have what we now consider normal lives. The whole world as we know it is going to be disrupted anyway, so it’s not like you’re going to really miss anything in the long run. But it might feel like that at first. Don’t look at it as if it’s not fair. Look at it as a special privilege that not many people get. After everything gets sorted out and put in the right place again, the “normal” people will be wishing they had what you have.

Not that you will be richer or more famous, but you’ll be doing what matters most in the world and in the universe, and all they’ll be good at is things that anybody could do, or that nobody will be doing anymore anyway, because the whole world is going to change and we won’t need all the same kind of jobs anymore. If YHWH is bringing you through unusual experiences, it is because He is training you for something very special. So look at it as a very personal gift from someone who really loves you, not something to be ashamed of just because it’s different. It means you count to Him.

The Renewal of B'MIDBAR

It is only fitting that these chapters on counting are always read as we approach the climax of the “counting of the Omer” between Passover and Shavuoth (Lev. 23:15), days during which Yeshua’s disciples, fueled by the astounding power and hope his resurrection had given, were nonetheless told to await the full count when they would be “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and have that “fuel” kindled from above to burn like the bush without consuming them. (Acts 2:1-4)

But where in the Renewed Covenant can we find anything like the kind of numberings we see in this Torah portion—and much of the rest of this book?
Well, how about this?  “Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand…” and so on through twelve tribes. (Rev. 7:5-8)  Who are they?  “The servants of Elohim” who were sealed with His name.

And the book is not just about numbers. Look closely at the pattern exemplified by the first enumeration (because the rest are the same as well):

“…the children of Reuben, Israel's first-born, their generations, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, by their polls, every male from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war.” (Num. 1:20, etc.)

What was that? Number of what? Names! Apparently all the names were all listed somewhere else and then counted. Each of those names represented someone who counted as a defender of Israel. And even before the numbering, we are given “the names of the men that shall stand with you” and since this list is not as impossibly-long as the others would have been—each in the thousands—they are all listed. So this is not an impersonal list of numbers—quite the contrary! Each of them is known to Him by name and counts in His estimation.

And that is something we see continuing in the Renewed Covenant: Yeshua hand-picked his inner circle of 12 who would help him do his job (as Moshe did here) after staying awake the whole night before in prayer so he would not choose according to whim or first or second impressions, but would know YHWH’s mind about who would be most effective at this unique task.

Paul, too, when writing letters meant to be circulated around entire regions, and which would continue to resonate for at least two millennia throughout every part of the world, still greeted many individuals by name, “my fellow-laborers, whose names are [not just in the letters, but also] in the Book of Life.” (Philippians 4:3) We could say that all these other people listed in B’Midbar have their names in the Book of Life—the Torah. (Deut. 32:47) But this is speaking of one of the books mentioned in Daniel 7:10 in regard to the judgment before YHWH’s throne—the one we want our names to be in as well.

“But the Levites were not numbered among the descendants of Israel, as YHWH commanded Moshe.”  (Numbers 2:33)  “Give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons; they are wholly given unto him from the children of Israel.” (3:9)  Just as Israel is not counted among the nations of the world (23:9), the Levites are the “crème de la crème”, the chosen among the chosen. Yet their job was one of the messiest that one could imagine.

Yeshayahu cryptically prophesied that the Messiah, the “priest after the order of Melkhitzedeq” (Psalm 110:4) would be “numbered with the transgressors” (53:12) and for this reason YHWH would “divide him a portion with the great”.  Indeed, he was thought of as a “winebibber” among drunkards and a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” because they were the ones who most needed the “doctor” and those who had hit bottom were the readiest to repent and be revived. 

 As the Levites did the “dirty work”, getting their beautiful white garments bloodied every day to bring Israel back to ritual purity, Yeshua had the most difficult job in history—to get down into the deepest of the trenches to “bear the sin of many and make intercession for the transgressors”, apparently even tasting the underworld in his death (Ephesians 4:9) to bring about a purification that was more than merely ritual and more than temporary. He was anointed—but that didn’t mean he got special treatment, not while the earth was still in its messed-up state. Later he will receive his due as king, but he is counted “worthy to open the book…because” he went all the way to the point of being slain in the process of redeeming us to Elohim. (Rev. 5:9)  “This man was counted worthy to carry more weight than Moshe, inasmuch as he who has built the house has more honor than the house (itself).” (Hebrews 3:3)  

“What does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed YHWH, and it was counted unto him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:3 based on Gen. 15:6) Paul notes that this was while Avraham was not yet circumcised—a sign and a command indeed, but one on which some were putting too much emphasis in contrast to the attitude that led him to later obey.  “If the uncircumcised keep the righteousness of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?” (Rom. 2:26)  “Not those who are the children of the flesh are the children of Elohim but the children of the promise are counted as the seed” [of Avraham]. (Romans 9:8) So the heart counts for more than genetics, though both, I dare say, are factors in most people who do heed the call. (Galatians 3:7, 29) But the horse must come before the cart.

Yet as with our forerunner and pioneer, we, too, who are favored to “be called sons of Elohim” (1 Yochanan 3:1; cf. Hoshea 1:10)—a high privilege once afforded only to the kings of Yehudah—are also allotted the privilege “not only to believe in the Messiah, but also to suffer for his sake.” (Philippians 1:29) While the world is still upside-down, this comes with the territory of belonging to the Age to Come rather than the present world order, “that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of Elohim, for which you also suffer”. (2 Thessalonians 1:5)  The same writer said, “I count all things [and these were very good things] but loss for the much higher privilege of knowing Yeshua the Messiah, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish” in comparison. (Philippians 3:8)

The brother of Yeshua who said, “Behold, we count them blessed who endure” (Yaaqov 5:11) also told us to “count it all joy when you encounter all kinds of tests…of your faith.” (Yaaqov 1:2)  
If the suffering seems long, remember how YHWH Himself counts: He “is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is very patient toward us, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance.” (2 Kefa 3:9)  “For which reason also we always pray for you, that our Elohim would count you worthy of this calling.” (2 Thess. 1:11)  And we, too, need to count the same way YHWH does: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor.” (1 Tim. 5:17)

So there are indeed many references to counting and being counted in the Renewed Covenant as well.

Let’s end with some words from Yeshua himself about what counts most to YHWH: "Aren't two tiny sparrows sold for an isar [essentially a “dime”—meaning one-tenth]? Yet not one of them shall fall upon the ground apart from your Father's (allowing it) [compare Amos 9:9], whereas even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you surpass many sparrows in value!” (Mat. 10:29-31)

Selected by Name

This book starts out with a census which takes up several of its chapters. But notice that YHWH Himself chose the census-takers by name. (1:17) This means they were people He trusted to do the job rightly. What an honor to be singled out from millions by the Creator of the Universe because He knows you are the best one for the job! Would He choose us? The other people counted were also not just numbers; their names and ancestry were all recorded (1:18), though it turned out to be to their shame.

Was this a wasted census? None of these people ended up going to war, which was the purpose of their being counted. (Numbers 1:3) They gave in to fear, and ended up infamous rather than famous. But one group of names stand out as different. The Levites (1:49-54) had a different kind of guard duty, and their census was worth it, since they did fulfill its purpose, unlike all the rest of that generation.

The whole tribe of Levi became a gift to Aharon. (Lev. 3:9) It seems strange to us to think of people as gifts, as if they were not their own. But anyone well-versed in the Renewed Covenant is familiar with both concepts: “When he led captivity captive, he gave gifts to men… He has given… emissaries,…prophets,… bringers of glad news, … shepherds and teachers, for the equipping of those set apart for the work of ministry [exactly what was done here with the Levites], for the building up of the body of Messiah [pictured here by the constructing of the Sanctuary tent], until we all arrive into the unity of the faith [pictured by this camp that included the whole nation of Israel], the accurate knowledge of the Son of Elohim, into a completed man—into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah.” (Eph. 4, quoting Psalm 68) This is what the Counting of the Omer aims for. The Levites were the picture of these latter-day “gifts”, which are also people with the same kind of job on a worldwide scale.

Then, “Don’t you know that your body is the sanctuary of the spirit of holiness, which is in you, which you have from Elohim? And YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN, because you were bought with a price.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) The sanctuary and all that went along with it was the responsibility of these Levites who were “not their own”. They belonged to Aharon, but only because they first belonged to YHWH in exchange for all the firstborn in Israel. (Num. 3:12-13) They were His to give. The redemption of the firstborn (3:40-51; cf. Ex. 22:29; 34:20) had bought them, and the one who paid the price for us, our redeemer, is also called the Firstborn in many different regards. (Luke 2:7; Rom. 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 12:23)

Vessels of ministry” is what they have charge over (Num. 4:12), and indeed “in a large house there are not only implements of gold and silver, but also of wood and earthenware, some of which are indeed put to dignified use, while others are put to dishonorable use. So if anyone has cleansed himself from these, he will be an implement designated for honor, set apart, useful to the Master, having been made ready for any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21) Congregational leaders in particular are “guardians over our souls” who have to give an accounting for the “vessels” of which they are in charge. (Hebrews 13:17) 

By the proportions of the size of each quadrant (2:9, 16, 24, 31), the settled camp would be shaped either like a cross or a drawn sword, facing east. Israel represented both—an instrument of YHWH’s continued defense of His holy off-limits (3:38), needed ever since the sin in Eden (Gen. 3:24), as well as His provision of redemption to take care of that problem. Both are symbols of death, but one brings vengeance and justice on those who are beyond salvage, while the other is a voluntary death on others’ behalf—something we take up so others may survive. 

 Being a “living sacrifice” is our “reasonable service”—literally the logical analogy to the “ministry” of these Levites, for other contexts in which we live--and serve. (Romans 12:1) And our overshepherd also knows us by name. (Yochanan 10:3)
The “Scandal 
of the Particular”

A month after the Tabernacle was set up, about two weeks after the first anniversary of the Passover, after the whole nation had been exempt from war for a year (compare Ex. 13:17; Deut. 24:5), YHWH starts psyching Israel up for the job they are assigned to do in carrying out His judgment on the Canaanites, who have had long enough to repent since Avraham was among them and told them the truth that I believe they ignored for 490 years (70 times 7, a pattern YHWH used on several other occasions before bringing a warned-of punishment).

Here those numbered are “20 and above”; it does not specify an age of discharge, as with the Levites, who are on duty in a different type of service (1:49ff) until 50 years of age (4:3). Do we parallel them and assume 50 is the cutoff for the army too, or should we get our cue from Lev. 27:3, where those valued most highly are 20 to 60 years old? Or…is it case-by-case, according to one’s ability to be effective in battle? (Caleb was still battle-worthy at age 85! (Joshua 14:6-12) Not everyone is. So this may be how YHWH wanted to leave it—open-ended, so particular people could be free to carry out what they were able to do without a one-size-fits-all rule where there truly is a great deal of variability.

The Levites (possibly because of the memory of their ancestor’s dealings at Sh’khem in Genesis 34) were actually sword-wielders as well—at least some of them: they were in charge of guarding the holy furniture and vessels that the Tabernacle housed (3:8), which included keeping anyone who was unauthorized from getting close enough to touch them; the penalty for doing so was death. (3:10)

  Why so harsh? Because one of the purposes of the Torah (which the Levites are also charged with teaching to the rest of Israel) is that YHWH wants us to learn to make distinctions (Lev. 10:10-11; 11:46-47)—a skill the book of Proverbs emphasizes, and a skill that has been progressively lost ever since our first ancestors ate of the fruit that mixed up good and evil, which were not meant to be mixed. Sometimes it takes something so vivid and stark to get our attention on the things He wants to emphasize.

Like the particular men in this Torah portion who were called by name (1:5ff) and others whom they “numbered by name” (1:2)--a concept that strikes us as a little unusual and therefore is also meant to get our attention--YHWH chose particular people and a particular tribe for particular tasks (3:21-37), and no one else was to take their place or usurp their prerogatives. Even others who were chosen by YHWH for different particular tasks were not permitted—again on penalty of death—to do the job He gave to certain individuals alone. (4:18-20) Even a king of Israel who tried to do that was struck with leprosy for the rest of his life (2 Chron. 26:16-19). His particular name was Uzziyahu.

Someone with a very similar name—Uzzah—and with the best of intentions, yet who was not designated for the job, tried to steady the Ark of the Covenant he was transporting, and lost his life (2 Samuel 6:3-7). When David returned to having the particular people YHWH had chosen for the task carry it in the way He had specified (Deut. 10:8; 1 Chron. 15:2), YHWH’s favor returned and David recovered his joy. (2 Sam. 6:12-15)  

Israel was to camp in a particular formation (2:3ff) and travel in a particular order (2:9, 17). And He still does things the same way: “He has fixed a day in which…to judge the whole earth…by the hands of a man that He has appointed”—vouched for by His raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31) As He did with the Levites, He chose to invest all of His authority into one particular cornerstone of His new dwelling place (Psalm 118:22; Isa. 28:16), a sole gatekeeper of His salvation. (Acts 4:11-12) 

This “scandal of the particular” (skandalon meaning a stone over which many stumble, Isa. 8:14-15; Mat. 21:42-44) is nothing new. He has always done it this way. Respect the particulars He has established if you want to share in His work in this world. “I did it my way” is a watchword of our day, but it won’t fly where we must do it His way (Deut. 18:19), and the sooner we get used to this fact, the sooner this world can be restored to the good that was unmixed with evil (1 Yoch. 1:5), and we can pick up where Adam and Eve left off.
The Camp Moves

Watch the order in animation
The Kind of Position 
that Counts Most

Every ten years I get a mischievous desire to write a takeoff on John Denver’s song with the words, “Come fill out your census…” and sell it to the government to use as their jingle. Okay, that’s my sense of humor; take it or leave it. But that’s sort of what’s going on as we open the book of B’Midbar (Numbers).

It is one of those confirming witnesses that this record of the counting of the people is always read during the Counting of the Omer [Measure], the 49 days between the Sabbath after Passover and Shavuoth (Lev. 23:15)—a time when we “aim at becoming a complete man, attaining the [proper] measure of maturity in what brings [the] Messiah to [his] fullness” (Ephesians 4:13) --in short, becoming the kind of people who “count” in YHWH’s kingdom. 

But the point of the numbering in the wilderness does not seem to really have been about how many men could go to war (though those are all who were counted in most tribes), for YHWH can do with many or few--but rather to build up to a climax with the number of the Levites, who paralleled the number of the firstborn in Israel. (Lev. 3:39-43) YHWH traded the Levites for them as the ones who especially belonged to Him (3:12, 45; compare 7:18; Ex. 13:13-15), maybe because it would make their training simpler if everyone in the family had the same kind of responsibility; it became like a family business, and thus the other firstborn were free to help their own families, which was where they were needed most. 

The few additional firstborn were redeemed with a sum of 5 sheqels (3:46ff), which would continue to be the redemption price of every firstborn male in Israel from that point on; the substitution count only took place this one time in our history. (18:15-16) The redemption of the firstborn detailed here was announced all the way back in Exodus 13:13, right as they left Egypt. So this was the plan all along.

The Q’hathites were the family of Levites who cared for the most important items in the Tabernacle. (Num. 3:31) Thus they camped on the south side of the sanctuary (3:29)—the “right-hand side” when facing east, the (literal) orientation that is the Hebraic norm. This showed how much they counted in the scheme of things.

The priesthood was also from this family, and they had still more special responsibilities. They got to cover up the holy vessels and put poles in place so their cousins wouldn’t see or touch the holy items when transporting them. (Num. 4:5-20) Only the sons of Aharon could see them and only minimally; Aharon had to hide the ark of the covenant from his view with a cloud of incense the one day each year he went behind the veil (Lev. 16:13); this was less of an issue after the cloud that indicated YHWH’s presence lifted to tell Israel it was time to travel on. (Ex. 40:36-38) 

 This was His mercy so their lives would not be endangered; even Moshe could not see Him, and they too, as sin-infested flesh, were not worthy to be around anything this holy, despite their highest positions among the chosen people. There are no exceptions; something more is needed for even the comparatively-best of us.

Only Yeshua, the firstborn of creation, yet redeemer as well, is a sinless high priest with the right offering, and thus permanently welcome to look full in the face the One who dwells between the kh’ruvim, and represent us there, making us clean enough to “draw near with a true heart” (Heb. 10:22), as he somehow passes on his pure DNA to us, forging a new human race (though really restoring the original). Rather than a fear of death if we misstep, we now have “hope as an anchor…within the veil” (Heb. 6:19), the most stable place it can secure us, so we can have the confidence to “boldly approach the throne…and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)

Our haftarah (1 Shmuel 20, for a Shabbat which is also new moon) gives 2 examples of that kind of confidence. Whereas firstborn sons of most kings are paranoid about preserving their prospect for the throne and would do anything to squelch the success of any apparent rival (and his father did have that obsession, which blinded him), Y’honathan knew David was not out to depose him and that YHWH would choose the best man for the job, so he instead became his best friend, giving David the best possible insider training for palace life, with none of the groveling or intrigues. Jealousy of his position would have wasted his occasion to have such a true friend, which counted even better in the long run. David, too, knew YHWH had secured his position, so he was free to wait on His timing.

The hope of Messiah does just that—frees us to let go of worries about where we stand in the pecking order; knowing our future is already secured lets us focus on truly caring for one another on the way.

 And that counts for much more than vying for first place, as my college friend Keith Wood wrote in a song of “two pilgrims on the very same road, seeking to walk in uprightness, but weighed down by each private load. ‘Iron sharpens iron’, creating a balance so grand—that’s to get to the Kingdom, by stopping to help one, and getting there hand in hand.”

The Mystery of 
Yizre’el (Jezreel)

At the time of this Torah portion, all of Israel was gathered together around the Dwelling-place of YHWH, all in orderly camps that knew when it was their turn to move, making it as efficient as possible to break and set up camp. That order did not last long once we moved into the Promised Land and spread out, leading eventually to the nation’s split and then our own alternative worship sites and days so that we no longer even all gathered around the same altar at the same times, as YHWH intended.

When Israel went after other Elohim, YHWH described it as prostitution. In the haftarah Hoshea lived a picture of this division. But he and his prostitute wife did have one legitimate child—the righteous remnant. After that, judging by the names of her other two children, she went back to her old ways and these children were not his. One was overtly named “not my people”. The legitimate son (1:4) was Yizre’el. In a Valley by that name (later to be the site of “Armageddon”), the Northern Kingdom’s defeat was sealed. (1:5)

Yizre’el means “Elohim scatters”, and that is exactly how Israel ceased to be a people. Its descendants lost track of who they were, being amalgamated into the nations in which they settled. 

But the haftarah actually begins where the reversal of this curse took place. (Note that in Hebrew, chapter 2 begins at the English 10: 1. To avoid confusion I will use the numbering we are used to.) Despite being scattered abroad, one day, “in the place where it was said of them, ‘You are not My people’, they will be described as ‘Sons of the Living Elohim’.” (Hos. 1:10)

Not only that, but the two parts of Israel would eventually be reunited under one ruler. (1:11) This has not yet occurred, but the groundswell was set in motion when YHWH in mercy allowed us to be called His sons even while in exile. (Yochanan 1:12; 1 Yoch. 3:1) All creation waits for us to be revealed as such. (Rom. 8:19)

The key is that their mother herself, when YHWH hedges her in and she finally runs out of options, ultimately decides, “Let me go back to my original man; it was better for me then than it is now.” (Hos. 2:7) This is whence Yeshua derived the character of the younger, “Prodigal Son” in the parable clearly about the two houses of Israel and the jealousy of the elder brother (Judah) when his younger brother comes back home--but not before all of YHWH’s initial gifts (our joyful festivals, 2:11) as well as things by which rival “lovers” bribed us to leave Him (2:12), are taken away, and not before we paid for our unfaithfulness (2:13) by being forced to worship those elohim with which we flirted (Deut. 28:36), after we found out how cruel they really were, as shown by their name: Ba’al--overlord or owner. (2:13-17)

But after we are humbled by all of this, and we repent like the prodigal, YHWH will take us back as His bride (2:19-20) and even make the animals in His land harmless to us and keep war away from us. (2:18) And the Land, which had become desolate and virtually a desert, will again respond. (2:22) This is because He Himself will respond, setting in motion a volley of responses that all spell restoration (2:21), because there is a second meaning to “Yizre’el”: “Elohim sows seed”. 

 The people scattered in all directions spread the good seed of the Kingdom (Mat. 13:38) which they themselves had rejected, but YHWH still made it grow out there among the Gentiles, so that when the first curse of “no mercy” (the other illegitimate child’s name) had run its course and YHWH sent emissaries to find His wayward people’s descendants, many of those Gentiles got to come back to the covenant with them, as in the exodus. 

 No wonder the response itself is “Yizre’el!” and He sums it all up with “Great is the day of Yizre’el!”  The illegitimate sons have grandsons that are allowed to become part of the legitimate people again because of another Seed that fell into the ground and died, but did not remain alone. (Yochanan 12:24)