For the week of August 6, 2005 / 1 Av 5765
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 33:1 - 36:13; 28:9-15
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4; Isaiah 66:1,24
Judgment Is Coming
The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out boldly in full view of all the Egyptians, who were burying all their firstborn, whom the LORD had struck down among them; for the LORD had brought judgment on their gods. (Bemidbar / Numbers 33:3,4)
The stages of Israel's journey are retold at this point in the Torah because God commanded Moses to do so. A recurring theme throughout the Bible is remembrance. Knowing how easily we forget the past, we must continually and purposefully remember our history and the lessons learned. When we don't, we lose perspective and risk repeating past mistakes.
As the people of Israel faced their challenges during the wilderness years, there were times when some wanted to return to Egypt. They had forgotten how terrible their lives had been there. In their minds their current problems (lack of food and water, the threat of attack, a general sense of not knowing what would happen to them), seemed far worse than their years of slavery under Pharaoh's harsh rule. They had forgotten how truly bad it had been.
There was something even greater that they were in danger of forgetting, which is the very thing God was reminding them of at this particular time. God's rescuing of his people from Egypt was not just about his concern for them (though that played a major part), he was also executing judgment on Egypt's gods. The peoples of both Israel and Egypt witnessed the power of God as he demonstrated his assessment of Egypt's spirituality.
God does not unleash his judgment on an ongoing basis. He takes no delight in punishing his precious human creatures. Because of his mercy, he is very patient with us, giving us as much time as possible to turn from our wickedness. While we cannot predict when God's patience will reach its limit, he doesn't wait for us forever. Eventually God does act in judgment, punishing individuals, communities, and nations for our stubborn insistence of neglecting him and his ways.
It was essential for Israel to remember God's judgment of Egypt. They needed to understand that no matter how difficult their circumstances were or would become, there is more to life than whatever is happening at a given time.
In our own day, we need to remember this as well. We live in frightening and confusing times. Terrorism, new diseases, social and genetic experiments all threaten the basic building blocks of our existence. Where will all this take us? The impression I have is that most people ignore what's going on in the world. They ignore it by drowning themselves in whatever diversion they can find, be it their work, their families, or every type of pleasure.
The fact remains that God is still God. Even though it often appears that he is not involved in our affairs, he is assessing us. We and the societies in which we live, will be judged. Unless we turn to him, accepting his offer of love and salvation though the Messiah, we will be no different from the Egyptians of old.
The choice is ours.
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