The book of Numbers tells the story of the Israelites’ journey from Mount Sinai to Canaan. Along the way, the children of Israel faced tests and challenges as they progressed toward their ultimate destination: the land of promise. They met both failures and triumphs and learned important, timeless lessons.
The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is an apt metaphor for the spiritual journey through life. Just as Israel’s journey began when God liberated them from Egypt, our spiritual path begins with a great salvation when we meet the Messiah. Just as God brought Israel to Mount Sinai, Messiah brings us to the revelation of Torah. Just as Israel’s goal was the Promised Land, our ultimate destination is eternal life in the world to come. Between here and there we face tests, trials and all manner of adventures. Like the children of Israel, we may face warfare, temptations, discontentment and agonizing hardships. As with the Israelites in the wilderness, our success or failure is determined by our reactions to these trials.
Paul used a similar metaphor. He compared the life of faith to a race run by athletes. The competitors in the race keep their eyes on the prize ahead. Though Paul was a mighty apostle and confident in his salvation, he did not regard himself as if he had already arrived at his goal:
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet. … I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in the Messiah Yeshua. (Philippians 3:13-14)
In his race metaphor, Paul declared, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it” (1 Corinthians 9:23). He was concerned that, after having preached to others, he would find himself disqualified from the race (1 Corinthians 9:27). If those were Paul’s sentiments, how much more so should we be concerned with the prize that lies ahead!
The book of Numbers illustrates the hazards in this race. The generation of Israelites who left Mount Sinai never did reach the Promised Land. The journey through life’s spiritual wilderness is fraught with difficulties and dangers. Paul said, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). We need to be mindful of the Bible’s rules for this journey. Each day we need to recommit ourselves to pressing forward and keeping our eyes on the goal that lies ahead.
This does not mean that if believers fail, God sends them to damnation. He never sent Israel back to Egypt. But it does mean that there are consequences for how we conduct ourselves, and there is rich reward for those who stay the course.
Bamidbar – במדבר : “In the wilderness”
Torah : Numbers 1:1-4:20
Haftarah : Hosea 2:1-22
Gospel : John 1-2
Source: Torah Portion