Parasha Behaalotecha

Numbers 8:1–12:16


Our parasha this morning is called Be-ha-a-lot-cha, which means “When you mount/raise up” referring to the instructions God gave to Aaron about raising up the lights for the menorah in the Tabernacle, which eventually became a symbol for the Jewish people.

Now, our parasha goes from Numbers 8–12, and while the first few chapters deal with important matters, like how the Levites are the representatives of Israel, and legal issues, like what to do when it is Passover, but you are ritually impure and can’t celebrate it, Numbers 10 marks a very exciting and key point in Israel’s history. Finally, after many months of being at Mt. Sinai, Israel will be leaving that location and heading towards the Promised Land, which was promised all the way back in Genesis! It is like a graduation.

Now, we are not entirely sure where Mt. Sinai is, but in this parasha, we are informed how God was able to lead the nation through the wilderness, from one location to the next. And in this very model, we find an important lesson for us today.

In Numbers 9, we are told that when the Tabernacle was set up with all the Israelites encamped around it, a cloud (which represents God’s presence) would preside over the Tabernacle (Num 9:15); in the evening, it would be like a fire over the Tabernacle (Num 9:15). As long as this cloud remained over the Tabernacle, Israel would remain in the same place.

However, whenever the cloud was lifted from the Tabernacle and would move, the children of Israel had to pack up their belongings, take down the Tabernacle, pack up their tents, and follow it to the place wherever it would settle down. There were actually two main trumpets or shofars that were blown to inform the camp: “Let’s get ready to go!” (Num 10:1).

And I love this model because it shows us how Israel was always watching for the movement of God. “[S]ometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, [and] when the cloud was lifted in the morning, they would move out; or if it remained in the daytime and at night, whenever the cloud was lifted, they would set out” (Num 9:21). So, evening or morning, they were waiting on the Lord to see His calling. Similar to how God tells us to put His laws and revelation as a sign on their hands, on their forehead, and on the doorposts of their houses (Deut 6:8-9), the idea was to always be aware of God’s presence.

Unfortunately, today it is easy to forget about God’s presence and His guidance. Paul tells us how to fight this in his letter to the Thessalonians, where he tells them: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:16-17). When life becomes easy or routine, it is easy to forget about God. But when we are called to rejoice, meaning to be thankful for God’s provision, and to pray without ceasing, meaning we acknowledge God, we become like Israel in this case: watching the movement of God.

And while Israel watched, we see another important element: Israel was always willing to go. Numbers 9:22 reads: “Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle…the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out” (Num 9:22). Israel was not only watching, but they were willing to go or stay, as the Lord called. As we have seen in Scripture, the most common characteristic of a person whom God uses mightily is not intellect, articulate speech, or wealth; it is somebody willing to go, despite being afraid. We see this in Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the prophets.

So, in Be-ha-a-lot-cha, we get this amazing model for how to live: Be Watching and Willing. And so, with this formula, Israel is destined for success, right?

Unfortunately, it does not turn out this way. In chapter 10, Israel is called to head out to the wilderness of Paran, which brings them right to the border of the Promised Land (Num 10:11–12). This is the finish line!

However, as you read on, you start to see things go terribly wrong. If this were a movie, the music would start to become eerie, and you would start sensing that the main characters will get in trouble. What we see is that, just like before Sinai, Israel once again starts complaining.

And this time, we see the heart of complaining being found from the lay Israelites all the way to the leadership of Israel. But why? They stopped watching and focusing their eyes on God, and they began to focus on themselves.

As they focused on themselves and their situation, they engaged in that one very dangerous act which many of us likely struggle with. This is the act which, according to experts, will rob you of all your joy. It is the act of comparing. Israel began comparing their current situation with their time in Egypt. The people said: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, and the melons” (Num 11:5). They forgot how bad the enslavement was, and they even wanted to go back! This made Moses so discouraged that he even asked the Lord for death so that he would not need to tolerate this anymore (Num 11:15).

Then in Numbers 12 we see the complaint of Miriam and Aaron against Moses, where they asked: “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us as well” (Num 12:2). Once again, they were comparing themselves to him, instead of focusing on the Lord, and his calling and tasks which He gave them.

And so parasha Be-ha-a-lot-cha gives us the formula for success: Be watching for the Lord’s movement (be in prayer, in fellowship, in study; keep your eyes focused and be willing to move when the Spirit calls, whether it is exactly what you wanted to do or not. But this parasha also gives us a warning: do not compare yourself to others, and do not look back either in guilt (I can’t believe I did that) or with longing (I wish I could go back). Rather, just as the cloud always moved forward towards the land of promise, so Paul says in his letter to the community in Philippi: “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Phil 3:13-14). As a community, let us press on to always be watching and willing to serve the Lord as the opportunities arise.