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B'Midbar/Numbers 33:2 And Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the direction of Adonai
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"Moshe wrote". It is unclear from the text whether this was a journal that Moshe had been writing all through the desert journeys, updated day by day, camp by camp, becauseHaShem had told him from the start to do it, or whether there came a point when HaShem told Moshe to write a record of all the journeys so far. Perhaps there is a suggestion in the use of the phrase - literally "upon the mouth of HaShem", which might imply dictation, as if Moshe had at best to be reminded of all the places they had been - that the latter is in view, but it could just as easily have been that HaShem gave Moshe a verbal instruction right at the beginning of the departure from Egypt to keep a record.
Nechama Leibowitz, pointing out that the Psalmist says the Torah "is lucid, making the eyes light up ... is just, rejoicing the heart ... is perfect, renewing life" (Psalm 19:9,8, JPS), asks what can be found "in this dry list of names ... which, apparently, contains nothing of significance". Ibn Ezra wants to connect "by the mouth of Adonai" with "goings forth according to their journeys" as if the writing was Moshe's idea as they went along, simply following HaShem's predetermined travel itinerary. He supports this by refering to "they remained encamped at a command of the L-RD, and broke camp at a command of the L-RD" (B'Midbar 9:20, JPS), where exactly the same phrase is used for the instructions to pitch and break camp. This idea is rejected by Nachmanides who insists that "by the mouth of Adonai" belongs with "Moshe wrote", that is, that Moshe was explicitly commanded to compile this log-book of the journey. He is supported by the Midrash, where the rabbis say, "the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: 'Write down the stages by which Israel journeyed in the wilderness, in order that they shall know what miracles I wrought for them'" (Vayikra Rabbah 23:1).
Maimonides expands this thought to provide a reason why G-d wanted the transcript when he writes that, "it was indeed most necessary that these should be recorded. For miracles are only convincing to those who witnessed them; coming generations, who know them only at second-hand may consider them as figments of the imagination ... G-d knew that future people might doubt the authenticity of these miracles, as they doubt the accuracy of other narratives ... In order to remove all doubts, the Torah enumerates all the stations, so that coming generations may see them, and learn the greatness of the miracle which enabled human beings to live in these places for forty years" (Guide for the Perplexed, 3, 50).
Several of the prophets are told to write down the words which the L-rd has given them. Isaiah: "And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever" (Isaiah 30:8, ESV); Isaiah's words are to be witness against the people that G-d had spoken to them and warned them about their sin. Jeremiah: "Thus says the L-RD, the G-d of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the L-RD, when I will restore the fortunes of My people, Israel and Judah, says the L-RD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it" (Jeremiah 30:2-3, ESV); Jeremiah's words confirm the promise that the L-rd has given so the people may refer back to it and be encouraged. Habakkuk: "And the L-RD answered me: 'Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end -- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay'" (Habakkuk 2:2-3, ESV); Habakkuk too writes down his vision, so that even though there is a delay before it happens, the people may be confident that it will happen in due time.
Pilate, the Roman governor who authorised Yeshua's crucifixion, wrote a sign to be displayed on the execution stake as a public notice of the reason for the execution: "And Pilate wrote an inscription also, and put it on the cross. And it was written, 'YESHUA THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.' Therefore this inscription many of the Jews read, for the place where Yeshua was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek. And so the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, 'Do not write, "The King of the Jews"; but that He said, "I am King of the Jews."' Pilate answered, 'What I have written I have written'" (John 19:19, NASB). The Jewish leaders knew the power of the written word and the number of people who would read it, so they tried to have the wording altered to match their opinion but failed. Similarly, when Rav Sha'ul made his appeal to Caesar, it was necessary that a charge sheet be prepared to accompany him, so Festus asked Agrippa to help him: "However, I have nothing specific to write to His Majesty about him. This is why I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa - so that after we have examined him, I might have something to write. It seems irrational to me to send a prisoner without also indicating what the charges against him are" (Acts 25:26-27, CJB).
Throughout history, men and women of G-d have kept journals and diaries, recording both the details of their lives and how G-d spoke to them, the promises and instructions He gave them and the prayers that were asked and answered. This forms a powerful testimony not only to the existence of G-d, but also to His continued involvement with and among His people. This written record demonstrates that - contrary to the popular expectation, even among believers, that G-d remains aloof from this physical world in which we live, occasionally appearing to offer a miraculous intervention when all else fails - in fact He is part of the warp and woof of every day life. He is - as it were - present in all the cable and air ducts of our lives, not even just popping up at every turn, but involved on a daily, hourly basis as a vital part of the infrastructure and life support system upon which we depend. He is the provider, the maintainer and the source of life itself.
In our modern world, however, we have become used to the ubiquitous utility companies providing all the comforts and essentials of life: broadband, voice and satellite or cable packages, delivered over a medium owned by one utility company, billed by another and content sourced from many others. One supermarket offers every imaginable food and drink product, from thousands of manufacturers, instantly available, ready-chilled, to be popped into our shopping basket. Not content with food, the supermarkets now rival each other to offer clothing, stationary, cookware, books and entertainment. It is so easy, all merged under one convenient roof, everything can be picked up in one visit and charged painlessly to our card account.
How we do resist the pressure of society to relegate G-d to the same mindless routine? Church on Sunday, Bible notes every day, house-group on Wednesday evenings - but no real expectation that anything will happen apart from a general sense of benevolence and feeling good. One important way is to keep a spiritual journal. Writing down our prayers and when they are answered (or not, be honest!), recording our impressions when we read the Bible and verses that make a particular impact on us, our aspirations and conversations with G-d - this is the source material for faith-building and kingdom assurance. After only a very short time of careful diary keeping, it becomes obvious that G-d really is there, that prayer really works, that the supernatural world is intertwined very closely with the physical, and that relationship with G-d is both real and growing. Kept over years, each person in every generation can build a testimony of changed lives, rescued marriages and relationships, powerful interventions of heaven in this world and the daily presence of G-d in every facet of life. As well as encouraging you and your family - children and grand-children can be powerfully impacted by a personal record - it can be a useful tool for sharing with others as a demonstration of G-d's love and care!
Further Study: Job 19:23-25; Romans 15:4; Revelation 1:19
Application: Do you keep a spiritual diary or prayer journal? Why not try it and start to build your own testimony of G-d at work in your life. All you need is a notebook and a few minutes each day.
Comment - 24Jul11 09:42 Christine Tapper: I particulary liked this drash. I'm going through the Old Testament and over and over I've read that God repeatedly reminded the Israelites they are to remember, "I brought you up out of Egypt", I performed all these miracles for you ... don't forget! I need to keep a journal not to forget all the wonderful things Yeshua has done and is doing for me. Thank you for reminding me of this.
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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