This week we are introduced to the four formations Israel is to be organized into. To the front, eastwards, is Yehuda, the son whom Ja’akov called Lion. This is the tribe out of which the kings will descend. And it represents Messiah, The King. In the south is Reuben who receives the second place of honor by it. Ephraim is to the west and Dan to the north. The other tribes are placed under one of these top tribes, two tribes under each of the four top tribes.
Each three tribe formation would have its own banner. Moshe already taught that his real banner is the Lord, see Exodus 17:15. This is why our Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba) teaches that this formation of Israel’s camp with the four divisions is a heavenly image of G-d’s throne surrounded by four companies of angels. Any war or resolution against Israel is in fact waging war against the G-d of the universe, a pitiful role to play against our invincible G-d.
In this parashat Bamidbar the Levites replace the firstborn, or said differently: the Levites are the representatives of the firstborn. There is a particular priestly task for every firstborn. That does not take away all responsibility from others than firstborn men. Neither does the replacement of the firstborn by the Levites. Also this is a heavenly image of the one who would come later as the firstborn: Yeshua. Firstborn from the dead that is, according to Isaiah 53:10 (see also 1 Corinthians 15:20).
As Yeshua would also be the only son of G-d according to Zachariah 12:10, I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of supplication. They [Jewish people] shall look upon Me whom they [soldiers of the Roman empire] have pierced, and they [Jewish people] shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him as one who is in bitterness for his firstborn.
Last week we ended our reading by proclaiming “Chazak, chazak, Venitchazek!” This means: Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened. And we say it at the end of each book of the five books of Moshe. Reason for saying it is that all this can help us to endure whatever we go through in order to finally see the real things instead of only these beautiful heavenly images. That is why Torah is so important: it leads back to Gan Eden where those people belong who love the G-d of Israel and the Torah of Israel.
Gentiles who join us in this automatically love the Jewish people, including ultra-orthodox and Messianic Jewish believers in Yeshua. How can we be strong? By the desire to live. How can we live? By doing what Moshe Rabenu told us to do: “All the commandments which I command you this day you must observe to do, in order that you may live …” (Deuteronomy 8:1). How can we endure? Also the New Testament says it: This shows the endurance of the tzadikim (saints): they keep the commandments of G-d and the faith in Yeshua (see Hitgalut, Revelation 14:12).
Lion S. Erwteman, Rosh Kehilla of Beth Yeshua