The names of this week’s double parasha are Matot and Masei, meaning “tribes” and “journeys” and cover Numbers 30:2-36:13. Moses gave Israel Adonai’s commands regarding vows in chapter 30. If a woman made an impulsive vow, it could be revoked by her husband or father. However, widows and divorced women didn’t have this option and would have to fulfill their vows. This chapter shows us why it’s important not to make hasty vows. Vows must be upheld, since they signifiy a person’s character and integrity, and breaking a vow can cause distrust and strife. In fact, Yeshua discouraged the practice of taking oaths, but challenged us to be people of our word. Our ‘yes’ should be yes, and our ‘no’ no.
In chapter 31, God commanded Moses to take vengeance against the Midianites for their part in conspiring with Moab to cause Israel to sin terribly at Peor. Moses told the Jewish people to choose 1,000 warriors from each tribe, and Pinchas the priest accompanied them into battle. The Israelis won a decisive victory! Every Midianite man was killed, including the 5 kings of Midian. Among the dead was the wicked prophet Balaam, whose influence led the Jewish men into idolatry and sexual sin with Moabite women in chapter 25. All the Midianite women, children, animals and possessions were captured, and the Midianite dwellings destroyed. Miraculously, in all this, Israel didn’t lose a single man!
But when the army returned from battle, Moses was angry with their officers, because the captured women included those who had earlier led the Israeli men astray. Moses ordered all the boys, and the women who had slept with a man, to be killed. However, the women who were virgins could be taken as the warriors’ wives, but within the strict and humane guidelines described in Deuteronomy 21. The captured women, animals and goods were divided among the 12 tribes, with the soldiers receiving half of everything. In appreciation for the fact that no Israelis had been killed, the officers gave the jewelry as an offering to Adonai.
In chapter 32, the tribes of Reuben and Gad asked Moses if they could remain in the conquered lands east of the Jordan River. Moses was displeased by their request and cautioned them that if they didn’t obey Adonai by helping the other tribes conquer Canaan, they would bear the guilt in the event of failure. By mutual agreement, they committed to go with the other tribes to complete the conquest, and then return to these lands. These tribes, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, fulfilled this promise in Joshua 4.
Israel’s overall journey from Egypt to the Jordan River is recorded in chapter 33. Upon entering the land, the Israelis were to possess the land and obliterate any traces of the Canaanites’ religious practices. Moses warns them to completely drive out the Canaanites, lest their pagan religious practices ensnare them, and Adonai have to punish them as He did the Canaanites. Centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah would condemn Israel for their disobedience in this matter, which led to idolatry and disloyalty to Adonai. That prophecy is the haftarah portion for this parasha.
In chapter 34, Adonai defines the borders of the Promised Land. Eleazar the Priest and Joshua are selected to assign the land to the Israelis, with one leader from each tribe to assist them, including Caleb from Judah.
In chapter 35, Adonai instructs Moses to designate cities for the Levites, including six cities of refuge to which anyone who unintentionally killed someone could flee. However, no one who committed premeditated murder was to be permitted sanctuary in these cities.
Anyone who accidentally killed someone had their innocence or guilt determined by the assembly, and were protected from retribution by staying within the city of refuge until the current High Priest died, after which the accused could return unharmed to their home. If the accused left the city of refuge before the High Priest died, the victim’s family could kill them without punishment. No one was to be executed for murder based on the testimony of just one witness – capital punishment required the testimony of multiple witnesses.
The parasha, and the book of Numbers, ends with a discussion of the inheritance of Zelophehad’s daughters, previously discussed in chapter 27. This set a legal precedent. Their inheritance would be preserved by marrying a paternal relative within their tribe.
This double parasha teaches us the importance of having godly concern for the vulnerable individuals in our society. The nullifying of a woman’s rashly spoken vow by a father or husband would protect her and her family from harm. Likewise, Zelophehad’s daughters, though unmarried and now orphaned, were provided an inheritance within their father’s tribe, allowing their family to keep what was rightfully theirs. And captured Midianite virgin women were accorded dignity and ample time to grieve before becoming wives to Israeli soldiers, with all the rights a native-born Israeli wife would possess.
Anyone, Jew or Gentile, accused of causing an unintentional death was given equal justice under the law in that they couldn’t be executed based on the testimony of just one witness, and were protected from revenge until their guilt or innocence could be determined.
Just as care for the most vulnerable people in society was extremely important for Israel, Christians and Messianic Jews under the New Covenant must show love and care for the vulnerable among us. Messiah Yeshua Himself declared that what we do for others in need, we are actually doing for Him. So, let’s endeavor to act on behalf of those who are experiencing hardship as expressions of our love for Yeshua! Because genuine faith in Him results in more than words. A changed heart is evidenced by changed priorities. Let’s make sure our actions truly demonstrate His love, and let’s loyally follow Him no matter what the cost!