The next Torah portion begins in Num 33.1 and goes to 36.13, and it is called “Masei” meaning “Journeys.” There will be many concepts in this portion that we are going to be dealing with. This portion is going to tell us about the “stages” out of Egypt to the land of Canaan. This portion will also deal with the “stops” they made rather than the “journeying.”
There will be 42 stops or stages and this will mirror our own “Exodus” out of sin to our own destination. The number 42 is the number of transition and these stops had good and bad aspects to them, but things turned out according to God’s plan in the end. This should be an encouragement to us in our journey (Rom 8.28). Israel failed at certain points of the journey, and so do we. That is where teshuvah (repentance) comes in.
We will see that Israel progressed in these 42 steps and things did not get easier for them either. The number 42 here alludes to the 42 generations from Abraham to Messiah (Luke 3.23-38). There will be 42 months from the beginning of the Birth-pains to the False Messiah, and 42 months from the False Messiah to the coming of Yeshua. The famine in the time of Elijah was 42 months. There were children who mocked Elisha and animals came out of the forest and killed 42 of them (2 Kings 2.24).
The number 42 in Hebrew is made up of the letters Mem and Bet. Mem has the meaning of “water, mighty and blood.” Bet has the meaning of “house or tent.” The word “Masei” carries the idea of “breaking camp” and it took Israel 40 years to make an 11 day journey (Deut 1.2). That is the hardest part about camping, the breaking up of the camp. The wilderness experience was not a lot of fun, but it teaches us about how the Lord is a loving parent who took care of his people. They had some very difficult moments. It also showed how the people loved the Lord to keep moving, often without much water. God expresses his appreciation in Jer 2.2.
The total count of the journeys is 42, and if you take off the first 14 which were before the 10 scouts, and the last 8 which occur during Israel’s move forward into the land of Canaan after the death of Aaron, you have 20 moves in 38 years. This is a move every every two years or so. This demonstrates how even an evil decree is tempered by God’s kindness.
Why does Num 33.2 repeat itself? It is because when we look at the future we must know the past, and when we look at the past we must realize what lies ahead. Many Torah-based congregations do not have a building of their own. They are usually small groups in a community and there can be a lot of moving. These groups can usually break camp in two years of less. They can identify with Israel’s experiences. In the Torah, there are certain passages you read all the way without stopping for commentary. Exodus 20 is one and this portion is another.
When we read Num 33.1-56 we find 42 locations in 40 years. Why does the Torah mention the names of all these encampments? If you do a word study on all the names they will speak of growth, insight and prophecy, so lets look at a few examples. For instance, “Rameses” in Num 33.3 means “child of Ra” or “created by Ra.” Ra in Hebrew means “evil.” Meses (Moses) means “created by” or even “delivers” in Egyptian. The numerical value of Rameses is 480, and it was 480 years from Abraham to the Exodus. The place called “Sukkot” in Num 33.7 means “stables or booths.” The numerical value is 480. and it was 480 years from the Exodus to the building of the Temple (1 Kings 6.1).
Migdol in Num 33.7 means “tower” and this has allusions to the Lord (a strong tower) and the place where Yeshua would be born (Mic 4.8-“Migdal Eder” or “tower of the flock”). In Num 33.13 we see “Alush” and it means “I will knead” as in bread. It is where the manna was first received. In Num 33.29 we have “Hashmonah” which is related to Hasmoneh” which was the last name of the leaders of the Chanukah story. It is the 25th stop, and Chanukah starts on the 25th day of Kislev. This list teaches Israel’s journey from slavery to freedom. Our lives are in stages (Ecc 3.1-8). each person has his own challenges and purposes, and we must learn from them.
Miriam dies at Kadesh (related to kedusha) and it is known today as Wadi Rum, and Aaron dies at Mount Hor (v 36-37). In Num 33.47, “Avarim” means “crossing over” or “those on the other side (of the Jordan).” You can cross the Jordan at several places there and there is a lush valley. This is where Reuben and Gad wanted to stay (half of the tribes). Manasseh wanted to stay for their cattle business. They said they were going to send their warriors to help the other tribes secure their land inheritances.
In Num 33.50-56 we get our introduction about coming into the land and how to do it. Israel is told to drive out the inhabitants and if they don’t, those who they let remain will be a “prick in their eyes and a thorn in their flesh.” There are few in Israel who will stand on these verses today. They let the Canaanites dwell, and they learned their ways. As a result of not driving them all out, Israel was driven out and delivered into the hands of their enemies. We are saved from the slavery of sin and death and look for our “promised land.” Our life is like these stages till we cross over into the land of promise (Olam Haba). In the meantime, our “tents” will get old, too. We are to learn the lessons Israel learned in the wilderness, they are for our instruction (1 Cor 10.1-6). In the Birth-pains there will be “stages” and moving will be a common thing (Matt 10.23).
In Part 34 we will pick up here with Moses showing the land to the people. We will also develop the concept of “borders.”