By Joshua Spurlock
Of all the promises given to us by our Lord Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ), one of those least discussed is that we will have trials in Olam HaZeh (This World). But it doesn’t end there. Yeshua also gave his talmidim (disciples) a second promise that is bigger than life’s trials.
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
– Yokhannan (John) 16:33b, ESV
Moshe (Moses) and Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) certainly learned this difficult lesson in the events of Parashat Chukat (B’midbar / Numbers 19:1-22:1). In this parashah, Moshe is faced with some of the toughest trials of his life, even as Bnei Yisrael begin the challenge of conquering the enemies standing in their way of taking the Promised Land.
Losing His Sister and His Temper
B’midbar 20 opens with the death of Miryam (Miriam). The older sister of Moshe, Miryam was more than just a sibling. It was Miryam who watched over the infant Moshe as he floated in basket on the Nile River to hide him from the Egyptians, and it was Miryam who bravely offered the daughter of Pharaoh to get Moshe a Hebrew nurse after he was discovered (Cf. Shemot / Exodus 2:4-9); that nurse being Moshe’s birth mother.
Moshe’s miraculous childhood relationship with his birth mother and the teaching he received at home was brought about by HaShem (“The Name”; a.k.a. the L-RD) through the courage and wisdom of his sister Miryam. Miryam was also a prophetess (Shemot / Exodus 15:20) with a heart and vision complimentary to that of Moshe, her inspired song to HaShem after the crossing of the Sea being very similar to Moshe’s.
In other words, Miryam was more than just a big sister. She was Moshe’s childhood guardian and prophetic companion. Her death doubtless hit Moshe hard. While the Torah (the first five books of Moshe) does not record how Moshe handled her death, the event that follows might shed some light on the stress he was experiencing.
After the death of Miryam, Bnei Yisrael complain about not having water again, and Moshe is sent by HaShem to draw forth water from the rock for the second time. This time, however, HaShem tells Moshe to speak to the rock. In a moment of anger at the complaining Bnei Yisrael, however, Moshe hits the rock instead.
As a result, HaShem punishes Moshe and Aharon (Aaron) for disobeying His command in front of the people, and the two leaders of Yisrael are prohibited from entering the Promised Land (Cf. B’midbar/ Numbers 20:2-13).
Moshe was a man like us. It is therefore possible that this great sin had something to do with his grief at the loss of his sister. Yet in this, we can find hope. After he erred, Moshe learned his lesson, did teshuvah (repentance), and was more prepared for his next trial—the death of Aharon, his brother.
Handling Trials with Torah
Aharon had been Moshe’s mouth to Pharaoh (Shemot / Exodus 4:14-16) and his partner in leading the people. Losing Aharon could easily be as devastating as losing Miryam. This time, however, Moshe is prepared.
In a symbolic passing of the torch, HaShem instructs Moshe to take Aharon and Aharon’s son Elazar (Eleazar) and change the priestly garments from Aharon to his son. Aharon will die afterwards, and so this could have been a moving and painful experience for Moshe. Yet what does the Torah say of Moshe here?
“Moses [Moshe] did as the LORD commanded.”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 20:27a, ESV
How did Moshe do it? This time, Moshe obeyed HaShem and followed His plan.
Sometimes the heartache and grief that accompanies tragedy can test our resolve to obey HaShem, as it may have done to Moshe at the rock after the death of Miryam. Yet it is in trusting faithfulness toward HaShem through the Lord Yeshua that we find a firm footing and peace in the midst of the storm (Cf. Yeshayahu / Isaiah 26:3, Mattityahu / Matthew 14:22-31).
Not only that, but that obedience helps us achieve part of the very purpose of the trials. The challenges and tragedies of life are designed to help us reach even greater heights of obedience to and closeness with HaShem.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
– Ya’acov (James) 1:2-4, ESV
For Moshe, that meant following HaShem’s plan of succession for Aharon’s priesthood. While it was difficult to watch Aharon die, HaShem’s commanded transition to Elazar proved that HaShem had the next step in mind. Aharon’s death wasn’t in vain and it didn’t catch HaShem off guard. It wasn’t bad—it was part of HaShem’s perfect plan.
Shaul (Paul) acknowledges this truth in Romans 8, where he connects the goodness of HaShem with the ultimate plan of salvation and sanctification.
“And we know that for those who love God [Elohim] all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
– Romans 8:28-29, ESV
Similarly, the Psalmist writes that those who act according to HaShem’s instructions are the ones who receive what they truly want and need.
“For the LORD God [Elohim] is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
– Tehillim (Psalms) 84:11, ESV
HaShem knows the trials His people experience. The Lord Yeshua, The Memra (Word) of HaShem Who became flesh (Yokhannan / John 1:14, Cf. Yokhannan 1:1-3), experienced first-hand the pain of hunger, temptation, losing friends to death, and ultimately death itself (Cf. Mattityahu / Matthew 4:1-11, 14:10-13, and 27:50). We can draw great hope and peace from this.
“Since then we have a great high priest [Kohen Gadol] who has passed through the heavens, Jesus [Yeshua], the Son of God [Ben Elohim], let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
– Ivrim (Hebrews) 4:14-16, ESV
Jewish sages have taught that HaShem personally goes with His people into exile (Midrash, cited by Rabeinu Bachye, The Daf Yomi Forum). He doesn’t allow us to endure something He doesn’t experience Himself. Even when we deserve the hard times, HaShem is there with us.
As Yeshayahu HaNavi (the Prophet Isaiah) says,
“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”
– Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 63:9, ESV
In addition, He gives us promises and mitzvot (commandments/good deeds) to help us overcome trials. Whether it is in the commanded acts of ever-present thankfulness (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:18) or how we handle death, HaShem has laid out for us the road map on how to endure trials.
In the chapter preceding the deaths of Miryam and Aharon, HaShem teaches us how to cleanse oneself of the physical contamination of death—the ashes of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer). HaShem is so Holy, those who have come in contact with death cannot enter His Mishkan (Tabernacle) or Beit HaMikdash (Temple), the abode of His presence.
HaShem therefore provided a way for us to be cleansed of our contact with death so that we can come into His presence again.
“And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel [Am Yisrael]; it is a sin offering… Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean.”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 19:9,11-12, ESV
At some level, the revelation of this mitzvah (commandment/good deed) just before the deaths of Moshe’s siblings may have been a way to prepare Moshe for their passing. It could also have served to emphasize to Moshe that HaShem is prepared for death, and that death is not the end of all hope.
Furthermore, its timing was key for the trials that would soon face Bnei Yisrael.
Battle for Preparation
For decades, Bnei Yisrael journeyed in the wilderness. During that time, the generation that witnessed HaShem’s miracles in Mitzrayim (Egypt) and fought with Amalek died. After 40 years, the new generation would enter and take the Promised Land, but first they needed to be refined and trained to fight.
They were about to begin a lengthy military campaign, though they had never fought as a nation before. So it is important that HaShem’s mitzvah of the Parah Adumah includes purification for having killed a person with the sword (Cf. B’midbar / Numbers 19:16-17).
Then, in the chapter right after we see the death of Aharon and Bnei Yisrael grieving, they are ambushed. The Kena’anim (Canaanites) attacked Yisrael and took captives. The timing was very grievous and it could have been emotionally devastating for Bnei Yisrael.
Rather than crumble, however, the people turned to HaShem.
“And Israel [Yisrael] vowed a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction.’ And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel [Yisrael] and gave over the Canaanites [Kena’anim], and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah.”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 21:2-3, ESV
Later, in the same chapter, Yisrael is prevented from taking the short route to the Promised Land for the second time. However, while Edom merely said no to Yisrael, the Amorim (Amorites) took it even further—they attacked Yisrael to prevent them from even trying to enter their territory.
Rather than this proving to be another tragedy for Yisrael, HaShem uses this battle to strengthen them and empower them. He grants Bnei Yisrael a miraculous victory and then uses that victory to pave the way to another.
After the Amorim, a giant gets in their way—literally. Og, King of Bashan, was huge (Cf. Devarim / Deuteronomy 3:11). But while he may have been Bnei Yisrael’s greatest opponent yet, HaShem uses their previous victory to encourage Yisrael.
“But the Lord [HaShem] said to Moses [Moshe], ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites [Sikhon, Melekh HaEmori], who lived at Heshbon [Kheshbon].’”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 21:34, ESV
In fact, later on in the Bnei Yisrael’s journeys, as Moshe is about to die and hand over the leadership of the people to Yehoshua (Joshua), Moshe uses the battles with Sikhon and Og as inspiration.
“The LORD your God Himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua [Yehoshua] will go over at your head, as the LORD has spoken. And the LORD will do to them as he did to Sihon [Sikhon] and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them… Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 31:3-4,6, ESV
So it is with us. When we face trials, HaShem isn’t trying to break us. He isn’t laughing in the heavens as we stumble here on earth. He is testing us, growing us, maturing us—with a purpose. What’s more, He will never give us more than we can handle.
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God [Elohim] is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV
Just as with Sikhon and Og, HaShem permits trials in our lives that will test our faith in Him. But not only will He give us the strength to endure those trials, He will then use those lessons so we can be prepared for the future (Cf. Ya’acov / James 1:2-4). Even discipline from HaShem achieves this goal.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
– Ivrim (Hebrews) 12:11, ESV
Shaul saw his many trials as a means to the ultimate contentment. Rather than be embittered by hardship, he learned to rest in all circumstances.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
– Philippians 4:11-13, ESV
So rather than breaking under the pressure, be emboldened. Don’t complain—cry out to HaShem instead. And when it seems like you can’t possibly continue in trust and obedience due to circumstances, look to Yeshua. While we can be encouraged by our own success, He has provided the ultimate example.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus [Yeshua], the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God [Elohim]. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
– Ivrim (Hebrews) 12:1-3, ESV
May you see each trial this week as an opportunity, and may the peace of HaShem in our Lord Yeshua HaMashiakh go with you.