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Parsha Matot/Massei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

Parsha Matot/Massei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

This week is a double portion where we finish the book of “Bamidbar—Numbers.” Moses, our main hero in the story is preparing himself and the nation for his fast-approaching death. In chapter 31 God tells Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel…” The women of Midian were responsible for the deaths of 24,000 Israelites because of the sin immorality and idolatry in Numbers 25.
 
Israel is commanded to go into battle. But with only 12,000 fighting men and Phineas the priest as commander, obviously, something different is going on here. Phineas is sent out with the holy articles and the signal trumpets. This isn’t a war for territory, control or wealth. This is a “holy war” where a priest of God is leading the selected warriors of God to wreak vengeance on the enemies of God. A battle of worldviews, morals, ideas, and beliefs; the people of Israel against the nations, purity verses immorality, faith verses swords, military commanders of nations against a priest of God leading an army. This was a battle “of the gods” where the God of Israel showed Himself victorious.
5 Kings of Midian and Balaam slain. Illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648-1733)
Phineas is chosen as leader because of his role as intermediary for the nation of Israel. His killing of the Israelite man and Midianite women to save Israel from the plague is exactly what qualifies him to take vengeance and lead his people into battle against the Midianites. He was a zealous priest for God and a leader among his brothers. In the commentary Kli Yakar it states, “Pinchas began the mitzvah (by killing the adulterers), which would assist him in bringing the matter to completion…’a mitzvah brings about another mitzvah.’ ” (Mitzvah can be translated as Good Deed)

The reason only 12,000 men were chosen for battle is because according to Or HaChaim on Numbers 31:3:2, “Moses had to mobilise the kind of soldiers whose fantasies had not run wild at the time of the debacle in Shittim.” If they were going to avenge Midian for the sin of immorality, then in order to be a warrior, they had to have stayed pure even in their thought life when all the depravity was going on in Numbers 25.

A pure and holy fighting force led by a passionate and fiery Priest were required to fight against the polluted and adulterated hordes of Midian. God needed set-apart, holy soldiers to fight His battle and take vengeance on His enemies.
 
After the battle, the children of Israel are bringing back the spoils…and here is where things get interesting… Numbers 31:22-23 says, “…Only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can endure fire, you shall put through the fire…” However, in Hebrew, a literal translation could be rendered, “Every word which comes in fire shall pass through in fire…”
 
This verse, which is speaking of the Midianite cooking utensils, (which in a literal sense it is) can actually be understood to mean “words.” The terms used for “everything” are two Hebrew words “Kol Davar” which can also be translated as “Every Word.”
 
Remember that Balaam used words against Israel? He spoke words that “came in fire” and therefore returned to him in fire. His words that brought death to Israel resulted in his demise. We read about his death in this chapter, 31:8.

Here is the point I think that can be taken from here… Israel was being warned not just about being defiled by cooking with the Midianites utensils. They were also being warned about the power of the tongue. Words brought about the destruction of the nation of Midian. They didn’t war with Israel and they didn’t steal from Israel, instead its says in Numbers 25:2 that they “called the people to the sacrifices for their god.” Midian is a prime example of the power of a destructive tongue. According to Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
 
We see that there is fruit attached to how we speak. Fruit can also be understood as reward, a remainder and reminder of what we build and speak in this life. Here is where the first part of Numbers 31:23 comes in, “…the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead…” This could be seen as the “rewards” or the “fruit” of learning that “Every word which comes in fire shall pass through in fire…” In other words “Everything you speak comes back around.” Whether bad or good, naughty or nice, disrespectful or honoring, it will return on your head. As it is written in Matthew, “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If this is the case, then look at Yeshua’s words in Matthew 12:35-37, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
 
Good men and women speak good things from the good treasure in their hearts; evil people speak just the opposite, but notice the big thing here…! By our words we are justified or condemned. The power of life and death are truly in the tongue!
 
1 Corinthians 3 tells us we will be refined with fire, Now if anyone builds…with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day [of Judgment] will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.”
 
Our rewards are based on what we do in this life, which includes our speech. In Yeshua’s own words as mentioned above, “every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment.” This is a scary thought! If we must give an account for the idle words we speak, can you imagine the account we will have to give for our malicious gossip?
 
It is interesting how a verse that seems to simply refer to purifying the Midianite vessels can be taken to tell us to guard ourselves against “Lashon Hara” or “Evil Speech.” We need to know that we are vessels for God, “…vessel[s] for honor…” (2 Tim. 2)
 
To tie everything together, the commentary Da’at Zkenim on Numbers 31:23 says, ‘any vessel that can withstand fire’…they (the Israelites) had to be taught that such belongings of idolaters had to be treated as out of bounds until their idolatrous character had been removed from them.”
The Midianite vessels had to have their “idolatrous character” removed from them, the same concept we must do in our lives. We must remove the idolatrous characters from our hearts so we can serve God “…out of a pure heart.” For, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Model of the 2nd Temple
I feel I have only scratched the surface of “Every word which comes in fire shall pass through in fire…” I could go into Miriam and Leprosy, the red heifer, murder through speech. Etc… Nevertheless, here is the takeaway.
 
Today, Israel has been criticized, de-legitimized, condemned, and attacked by way of the UN, the news media, and NGO’s. Everyone in the mainstream world has attacked Israel, not only through action but also in word. It is up to people like us to take a stand and tell the world the truth about the nation of Israel. Israel is a light to the nations, telling the faithfulness of God.  And if God is faithful to Israel, He is near to us as well!
 
Our mission is as follows: learn to speak life! Speak life and truth about Israel, and speak life and truth into others. Gossip brings death to 3 people, the one who speaks, the one who hears, and the one who is being spoken of. We need to purify our “vessels” to speak God’s word into the world around us. James 3 tells us of the tongue, “…With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men…Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”
 
These things out not be! So let us take gossip and evil speech out of our mouths and instead be found with “…the high praises of God in [our] mouth and the two-edged sword in [our] hand.” 
  Chazak, Chazak, V’Neet’Chazek! Be Strong, Be strong, and may we get stronger!  
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

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