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B'Midbar/Numbers 16:21 Separate yourselves from this assembly and I will consume them in a moment
The immediate thought from this text might be thatHaShem was calling Moshe and Aharon to stand aside from the rest of the people so that they would be preserved when the rest were destroyed, so that HaShem could start again with just the two of them. Certainly this is what HaShem said to Moshe at the incident of the calf: "Now let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation" (Shemot 32:10, NASB).
Further consideration might yield another alternative: thatAdonai was instructing Moshe and Aharon not to intercede for the people - as Moshe had in the past - in the same manner as Avraham had stood before the L-rd on behalf of S'dom. On that occasion, hearing that Adonai was about to destroy the city because "the outcry of S'dom and Amorah is indeed great, and their sin is exceeding grave" (B'resheet 18:20, NASB). But Avraham pleads for the city: "Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city? ... Suppose forty? ... Suppose thirty? ..." (verses 24,29,30 ff.) so that the L-rd eventually agrees to spare the city if ten righteous men can be found.
The clue, perhaps, can be found in Avraham's opening question: "Will you actually sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" (B'resheet 18:23, CJB). TheSforno comments: "Separate yourselves - so that your merit shall not shield them" and refers to Job 22:30 - "He delivers even the unclean; so if your hands are clean, you will be delivered" (CJB). By their presence among the people, Moshe and Aharon prevented G-d's anger from destroying the whole assembly. Whilst the protestant Christian church has traditionally been negative about the idea of merit - either of man having any or of its being transferable, except of course in the one case of Yeshua Himself - it is not an idea that is foreign to the Scriptures. Rav Sha'ul writes: "For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his [believing] wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her [believing] husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy" (1 Corinthians 7:14, ESV). While this does not say that anyone becomes a believer without knowing and accepting Yeshua for themselves, it does say that there is a measure of relationship just waiting to be taken up by the believer and that the blessing and provision for believers can and will overspill to include those for whom they are responsible or to whom they are closely linked.
Yeshua told the disciples: "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). Salt is a preservative and was widely used to preserve meat and vegetables for long periods; it also acts as a disinfectant and healing agent. Yeshua is saying that we have that effect in the world and, that like Moshe and Aharon, our presence holds off G-d's judgement and wrath. Because we are here and live and work among unbelievers, G-d's righteous anger at sin is held back for this season so that more people may have the time and opportunity to come to know G-d.
Further Study: D'varim 29:10-13; Romans 11:16
Application: How can you be 'salt' to your community and those around you? Do you preserve and cleanse the company that you keep? Ask G-d how you can be more effective in simply being there for people and holding back the onslaught of wickedness in the world today.
© Jonathan Allen, 2006
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