The name of this week’s parasha is Chukat, which means “decree of”, and covers Numbers 19:1-22:1. This parasha covers the ordinance of the red heifer; the Israelis’ journey to the Promised Land; Moses and Aaron’s exclusion from leading the Israelis into the Promised Land; and the Israelis’ conquests. A red heifer must be unblemished and without defect and has never had a yoke placed on it. After it was given to Eleazar the priest, it was taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. After this occurs, Eleazar would take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it toward the front of the Tent of Meeting seven times; he would also observe the heifer being burned up.
The priest would throw cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet material in the burning heifer, then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward come into the camp, but he was unclean until evening. The one who burned the heifer would also wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and was unclean until evening.
A clean man gathered the heifer’s ashes and placed them outside the camp in a clean place for the Israeli community to keep it as water to remove impurity – he must wash his clothes and was unclean until evening. This ordinance was for both the Israelis and aliens among them.
Specific procedures were given in using this water on a person who was unclean through contact with the dead to become clean – anyone who was unclean that didn’t follow these procedures would be cut off from the Jewish people. Whoever sprinkled the water for impurity must wash their clothes, and whoever touched the water for impurity was unclean until evening. The chapter ends by warning that anything touched by the unclean person becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it would be unclean until evening.
Chapter 20 begins with the Israelis’ journey to Kadesh, where Miriam died and was buried. There was no water there, so the Israelis gathered to oppose Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron left them and went to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, where they fell on their faces. Adonai told Moses to take the rod, and he and Aaron would assemble the Israelis and speak to the rock as the Israelis watched, and the rock would produce water for the Israelis and their livestock.
Moses took the rod, and he and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock; however, Moses was angry and he glorified himself instead of God, and he struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Although water came out of it for the Israelis and their livestock, Adonai told Moses and Aaron that because they hadn’t believed Him, to treat Him as holy before the Israelis, neither of them would bring the Israelis into the Promised Land. This place was called Meribah, due to the Israelis’ contention with Adonai.
After being refused passage through Edom by the Edomites, the Israelis went from Kadesh to Mount Hor, and the chapter ends by describing Aaron’s death. Moses took Aaron and his son Eleazar up Mount Hor, and Moses took Aaron’s garments from him and placed them on Eleazar. After these events occurred, Aaron died there, and Moses and Eleazar left the mountain. The Israelis then mourned for Aaron’s death.
Chapter 21 opens with Adonai giving the Israelis victory over the Canaanites of Arad – the Israelis destroyed them and their cities. Unfortunately, the Israelis spoke against God and Moses during their journey, and Adonai sent serpents that bit the people and many Israelis died. After the Israelis acknowledged their sin and asked Moses to intercede for them to God, so that God would remove the serpents, Moses honored their request. Adonai told him to make a serpent and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and live. When Moses did this, anyone that was bitten and looked at the bronze serpent lived.
Yeshua referenced Moses’ actions here in John 3 when declaring that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. When the Israelis looked at the snake, they lived; when we look to Yeshua in faith, we will have eternal life!
The Israelis continued their journey to the Promised Land and defeated Sihon, the Amorite king, and took his land. After capturing the villages of Jazer and expelling the Amorites there, they defeated Og, king of Bashan and took his land. The parasha ends with the Israelis camping in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan opposite Jericho.
Parasha Chukat teaches us that because God is holy, He expects His people to honor Him as holy – those who do so receive His blessings, but disobedience brings serious consequences. Our obedience to His commandments shows that we believe Him, we honor Him as holy and we trust Him to provide for our well-being.
This parasha also shows us that we need to be cleaned from that which is unclean. As followers of Messiah Yeshua, we can be assured of the cleansing power His blood has in our lives. The writer of the letter to the Messianic Jews (Hebrews) presents this power clearly in Hebrews 9:13-14: “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” So, let’s take comfort in the mighty cleansing power of Yeshua’s blood, and let’s loyally follow Him as Lord and Savior!