In a response to a reader’s question about his works, author Stephen R. Donaldson provided this enlightening comment about the motivation behind his writing:
I’m a storyteller, not a polemicist. As such, my only mission is to help my readers understand my characters and appreciate what those poor sods are going through. (Stephen R. Donaldson Official Website, February 23, 2004)
Donaldson’s best known writings might be categorized as postmodern American science fiction and fantasy literature. The worlds he creates are not the pristine, archetypical fantasy worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but darker realms that mirror our present ambiguous reality. Donaldson explores human nature in a secular, relativistic world detached from the moral underpinnings of Christian civilization. Good and evil manifest in the worlds he creates, but they are often uncomfortably intertwined so as to be nearly indistinguishable. Such is the case with his most famous protagonist, the anti-hero Thomas Covenant. In ten novels published over the span of 36 years, Donaldson follows Covenant through three epic quests in The Land, the world of his creation where magic and Earthpower shape the lives of mortals. Covenant is one of the most unlikely heroes in the history of literature: a leper living in present-day America who is magically transported to The Land to save it from destruction by Lord Foul the Despiser. He wears a wedding band of white gold, the source of Wild Magic, which is the greatest power ever known in The Land. He does not know how to wield this power, nor does he desire to do so, yet the dire circumstances of The Land compel him to find a way. Each victory comes at a cost. Ultimately it is Covenant himself who pays the greatest price, and thus he earns not only sympathy, but redemption.
We learn much about power in White Gold Wielder, the last novel of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The Elohim, supernatural beings who keep watch over the Earth, “silence” Covenant, placing him in a catatonic state so he will not use his ring unwisely and risk destruction of the world. After Covenant is revived by his companion Linden Avery, Findail of the Elohim explains their actions to her:
The ring-wielder we silenced, not to harm him, but to spare the Earth the ill of power without sight . . . Thus the choice would have fallen to you in the end. His ring you might have taken unto yourself, thereby healing the breach between sight and power. Or perhaps you might have ceded the ring to me, empowering the Elohim to save the Earth after their fashion. Then would we have had no need to fear ourselves, for a power given is altogether different than one wrested away.
Findail’s declaration, “a power given is altogether different than one wrested away,” is a restatement of something taught long ago by One Who understood power:
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NASB)
Yeshua’s lesson on power and leadership is part of His mission to teach the Torah more perfectly (Matthew 5:17-19), helping His disciples understand YHVH’s true intent behind the commandments He gave through Moses. There is much about leadership in the Torah, much of it appearing in the positive and negative applications of leadership principles in the journeys of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. Many of the negative examples appear in the book of Numbers, involving various challenges to Moses as the undisputed leader and lawgiver appointed by God Himself. Several of those challenges occur in Beha’alotcha (In Your Going Up) (Numbers 8:1-12:16). In a sense, this is the high point of the Exodus journey. The people have completed a full year of freedom from Egypt, they have received YHVH’s instructions on how to regulate themselves and their society, they have built the Tabernacle, consecrated the priesthood, organized themselves into tribal camps, and observed the first anniversary of the Passover. Only a few items of business remain before the nation can move out from Sinai. The first item is to ensure the seven lamps of the Menorah are burning continuously before the Lord (Numbers 8:1-4), an important symbol of the Holy Spirit, described elsewhere as the Seven Spirits before the throne of YHVH, and which rest upon Messiah, the Branch and Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-2; Zechariah 3:8-10; Revelation 1:4-20). Then comes instruction on the service of the Levites, the tribe the Lord has chosen as a substitute for the firstborn of Israel whom He redeemed from death in the Passover (Numbers 8:5-26). Like everything else about the Exodus story, the dedication of the Levites to the holy work of the Tabernacle (and the Temple after that) is a sign of things to come. As Isaiah explains, the Lord will add to the ranks of the Levites in the latter days, when Messiah reigns from Jerusalem and Israel returns in peace to the Land:
“Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:20-21 NASB, emphasis added)
With the Levitical service established, the Lord provides further instruction regarding the Passover. In Numbers 9:1-14 we learn just how important YHVH considers this feast. He commands his people to observe the feast in the evening on the 14th day of Nisan, the first month. Since this feast is all about new life in Him, no one who has had contact with a dead body may partake of the Passover. (That, in fact, was why the Jewish leaders could not execute Yeshua themselves, but had to go through the Roman authorities to put Him to death (John 18:28-32).) This creates a conundrum: one who is disqualified from keeping the Passover breaks the commandment to keep it, but he will also break a commandment if he eats the Passover in an unworthy manner (something which the Apostle Paul put into context for Yeshua’s disciples in I Corinthians 11:23-34). Moses, therefore, inquired of the Lord to clarify the matter, and received instruction to institute a Second Passover: anyone who was disqualified from eating the Passover in the first month, or who was on a journey and could not get back in time for the feast, could celebrate it at evening on the 14th day of the Second Month (Iyyar). This is something we should understand more clearly: the Creator of the Universe deemed the Passover so important that He provided two opportunities during the year for His people to observe it, which means it should occupy a high place in our own priorities.
The last bit of business concerns instructions on how the camp is to travel (Numbers 9:15-10:10). We learn that the Lord Himself leads the people through a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and from this example we learn that God’s people should never move unless He directs. To ensure they knew when to move, He gave instructions regarding the Silver Trumpets which the priests would blow to assemble the tribes or their leaders, for various alarms, and to announce the Feasts and New Moons. Herein is yet more important instruction for us today: when YHVH says rest, we rest, whether for a day or a month or a year, and when He says move, we move. Since the Spirit of the Lord Who was in the cloud is the same Spirit Who dwells in His people today, recognizing the instructions for moving and resting should be relatively easy – as long as we stop trying to take matters into our own hands and actually let God be God.
Finally, with all that business concluded, the Tribes are ready to march. Numbers 10:11-34 gives us the order of march. The Camp of Judah leads the way, with the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, followed by the Levites bearing the Tabernacle. Then comes the Camp of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad, after whom are the Levites carrying the holy objects. Next is the Camp of Ephraim, comprised of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. Last comes the rear guard of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. The nation of Israel on the march must have been quite a spectacle, and certainly an unmistakable testimony to the glory of our God. The spectacle sets the stage for what may be the most profound lesson of the Torah: the Inverted Nun.
Nun (pronounced noon) is the Hebrew letter that corresponds with the English N. Normally it is written like this: נ. The picture Nun presents is a fish getting ready to dart away. Fish tend to surprise us by their presence. Often we do not see them in the water until they jump and splash, or swim away very quickly. This surprise reminds us that there is life out in the water, and for that reason the Nun means not only “fish”, but the quickening of life.
If a normal Nun means life, then an inverted, or backward, Nun must mean something more profound, perhaps even life from the dead. That is one way of interpreting Numbers 10:35-36, verses set apart by Inverted Nuns:
Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, “Rise up, O Lord! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.” When it came to rest, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the myriad thousands of Israel.” (Numbers 10:35-36 NASB)
In Torah scrolls the text, with emphasis on the Inverted Nuns, appears like this:
This is called a tittle, a special Hebrew scribal mark intentionally inserted into the text to convey a specific meaning. Jewish teaching is that these two verses, set apart by these tittles, transform the five books of Moses into the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1). In other words, the wisdom in Numbers 10:35-36 equals the wisdom in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the rest of the book of Numbers. They stand apart, splitting Numbers into three distinct sections which, when added to the other four books of Moses, create the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
What is this great wisdom? When considered from a Messianic perspective, with Yeshua in the center, it is the work of God in redeeming and restoring His creation. Moses gives us a prophecy of Messiah’s resurrection by saying, “Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.” That is exactly what happened when Yeshua rose from the grave, as Paul explains in his letter to the Colossians:
When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities [principalities and powers], He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:15 NASB)
In the next verse, Moses tells us what will happen at the end of this age: “Return, O Lord, to the myriad thousands of Israel.” This means that Messiah will come back to bring resurrection to His people, the redeemed of Israel. The testimony of the prophets and the apostles explains that these redeemed and resurrected ones of Israel are those who, by faith, call on the name of the Lord for Salvation (Yeshua means Salvation) and are grafted in to the congregation/assembly/commonwealth/nation/”church” of Israel (see Ephesians 2 and Romans 9-11). Paul provides a summary of this great mystery in I Corinthians 15, particularly in these verses:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. (I Corinthians 15:20-24 NASB)
This is the high point of the Exodus journey. The Tribes, now organized and ready to march, set out under Moses’ leadership, but it does not take long before the God-established order begins to break down. Numbers 11 explains how the people began to complain, and that the Lord responded with a plague of fire that consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. Sadly, the people failed to heed that lesson. Soon afterward, they complained that they had no meat to eat, and that they were tired of the heavenly bread (manna) which the Lord Himself provided. Significantly, it was the “rabble”, or “mixed multitude” who led the complaining. They were the foreigners who had been grafted into Israel. We may infer that their grafting into the nation was incomplete; although they had joined physically with the nation, their hearts remained in Egypt, or in Canaan, or in Greece, or wherever else they had come from. Instead of becoming completely Hebrew by crossing over from their old lives and identifying completely with YHVH and His people, they still had one foot in their old identity. The result for them was disastrous: although the Lord gratified their lustful desires with quail to eat, He sent a plague that brought the deaths of many in the camp. This should be a lesson to us as well. In fact, the lesson is so important that Yeshua explained it several different ways so that we would not make the same mistake:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Luke 16:13 NASB; see also Matthew 6:24)
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 NASB)
It is at this point that we get to the lessons in leadership. After enduring the complaints of the people, Moses at last asked the Lord for help. The Lord responded this way:
The Lord therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.” (Numbers 11:16-17 NASB)
Who were these elders? They were men proven by experience to be worthy of the people’s trust, and of the Lord’s anointing for service. We can be relatively certain that the selection process followed the counsel Moses received from his father-in-law Jethro a year earlier:
Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace. (Exodus 18:19-23 NASB)
Jethro’s counsel illustrates the principle of servant-leadership which Yeshua explained and walked out before His disciples many centuries later. The men who became the leaders of the tribes had proven themselves reliable in lesser tasks, first in their families, then in their clans, and finally for their entire tribes. Then came the next step: forming a council of judges who could advise and assist Moses himself in governing the entire nation. The 70 elders chosen for this purpose required a special anointing for their new office. This is not to say that the Spirit of the Lord was not in operation in them before, but in their new positions of national leadership they required another aspect of His Spirit that only Moses had received up to that point. The sign thereof was that these men began to prophesy when the Spirit came upon them, although they only prophesied once. But then something peculiar happened:
But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. So a young man ran and told Moses and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, “Moses, my lord, restrain them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” Then Moses returned to the camp, both he and the elders of Israel. (Numbers 11:26-30 NASB, emphasis added)
We learn something important about humble servant leadership from this incident: Moses was not jealous for his own position, but only desired the best for God’s people so that they might be fully equipped to do the work of His Kingdom. His desire that all the Body would be filled with the Spirit and prophesy was echoed by the Apostle Paul:
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. (I Corinthians 14:1 NASB)
That, in fact, is what the Lord desires, and is the reason the Holy Spirit has been poured out on the whole Body of Messiah. When we speak the Word of God in direct application to our lives, we prophesy. That is the mystery of the New, or Renewed, Covenant: that the Spirit of the Living God makes His Torah live within our hearts so we may live according to His standards of righteousness (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Supernatural manifestations of the Spirit, such as signs, wonders, and words of knowledge, are spectacular evidence of the Spirit’s presence, but the true sign of a man or woman of God is the humble attitude of Moses by which God’s people demonstrate their complete submission to their Creator.
The humility of Moses was evident in the next test of his leadership. This time it came from the people who should surely have known better: his own brother and sister. As we learn from Numbers 12:1-16, Aaron and Miriam took issue with the fact that Moses had married an Ethiopian (Cushite) woman to challenge his position as the anointed leader of the nation. They were right in stating that the Lord spoke through them as well as Moses, but they overstepped their bounds. They sought to wrest power away from Moses, and in so doing incurred the Lord’s anger. His response to them tells us something crucial about Moses and his position in YHVH’s plans for all humanity:
Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses? (Numbers 12:6-8 NASB)
Here we see the difference between a power given and a power wrested away. Moses did not ask for the position of leadership he held. Perhaps at one time he would have sought for such a position, back at the time he was prince of Egypt. When he intervened and slew the Egyptian who was abusing his fellow Hebrew, it may have been out of a motivation to challenge Pharaoh and lead an uprising that would turn the times back to the way they had been when his ancestors had first come to Egypt. He tried to grasp a power he had not been given, and had he succeeded, he would have become something like a pharaoh, lording his position over everyone beneath him, whether Hebrew or Egyptian. YHVH could not use such a man, and thus Moses was compelled to spend a lifetime in seclusion among the sheep of Midian. Only then, after serving faithfully the animals under his charge, his father-in-law, his wife, and his children was Moses ready to take on the supreme challenge of serving over two million oppressed people. His ordeal made him the most humble man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3), a fact that Miriam and Aaron learned the hard way. Had Moses retained any of the princely pride he had learned in Pharaoh’s household, he would have taken steps to defend his honor and his position, even against his own flesh and blood. Yet as the epitome of a servant-leader, Moses left it up to the Lord God to defend him, which is exactly what a man of God is supposed to do.
And here we have what may be the greatest lesson of this Torah portion. If Moses’ own brother and sister, the High Priest and prophetess of Israel, incurred the anger of the Lord for doubting Moses’ God-given position, who are we to do the same? Until Messiah’s arrival, no one spoke with greater authority than Moses. That is why Yeshua said of him,
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? (John 5:45-47 NASB)