When I first delivered this message, I was preparing to leave early the next morning with my wife Ann, our son Joel, my father, and Hilda Chen, Israel coordinator for Operation Exodus, on a ship heading to Odessa. Waiting at that famous Ukrainian port would be Jewish people who had made the momentous decision to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel). Yes, they are still coming home.
After loading the ship with this most precious cargo, we planned to depart from Odessa and set sail for the shores of Israel, the harbor at Haifa.
One of my ministry roles is serving as the vice-chairman of Operation Exodus. This ministry has helped to bring more than 80,000 Jewish people back to Israel. In addition, I have the privilege of serving on the board of Bridges For Peace, which also helps to bring home thousands more and to assist the most needy of these olim (immigrants) once they’ve arrived.
Many in my congregation here in Jerusalem are also involved in the work of aliyah.
Now the day before I delivered this message, I was reading the Torah portion that was read in the synagogues that Sabbath and discovered some verses that I think will be a great encouragement to those of us who help bring home God’s chosen people. And as we read, I want you to pay careful attention to how God reserves a significant place for Gentiles among the nation of Israel. Moreover, I want you to see how Gentiles also have a special role in guiding the Jewish people to their Promised Land—and not just guiding them, but also giving them practical assistance on their journey. And finally, I want you to take note of the blessings that are promised to Gentiles when they help bring home God’s chosen Jewish people.
So let us read from Numbers 10: 29-33: “29Now Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, ‘We are setting out for the place of which the LORD said, “I will give it to you.” Come with us, and we will treat you well; for the LORD has promised good things to Israel.’
“30And he said to him, ‘I will not go, but I will depart to my own land and to my relatives.’
“31So Moses said, ‘Please do not leave, inasmuch as you know how we are to camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32And it shall be, if you go with us—indeed it shall be—that whatever good the LORD will do to us, the same we will do to you.’
“33So they departed from the mountain of the LORD on a journey of three days; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them for the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them.”
This episode took place during the first and most famous aliyah or return of the Jewish people to their Promised Land—the exodus from Egypt. Now as great as that first exodus was, today, in these last days, a second exodus is happening. It is an exodus that, when it is completed, will be an even greater exodus than the first one.
There is an awesome prophecy in Jeremiah 16:14,15: “14‘Therefore behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that it shall no more be said, “The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” 15but, “The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.” For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.’ ”
In light of the fact that this last and greatest exodus is being compared to the exodus from Egypt, then I think that the same spiritual principles that applied then also apply now. In other words, just as Gentiles were invited to join the Jews in their first exodus, were called to guide and to give practical assistance on their journey, and were promised a share in Israel’s blessings as a reward for their help, the same is true during this second and last exodus “from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.”
To see these spiritual principles and precedents, let’s look again at our Torah reading in Numbers 10:29-33.
1. Gentile Christians have a significant place among God’s chosen people.
Looking at verse 29, the first thing we see is that Gentiles who have faith in the God of Israel have a position alongside the children of Israel. We read, “Now Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel [or Jethro] the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, ‘We are setting out for the place of which the LORD said, “I will give it to you.” Come with us….’ ”
One might ask, “What is this Arabian man named Hobab from the Midianite tribe doing at the foot of Mount Sinai with the people of Israel at the very moment God is calling them to move on in their journey to Canaan?” One answer to that question is that there were lots of non-Jews who joined the children of Israel in their exodus from Egypt. We read in Exodus 12:37, 38: “37Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38A mixed multitude went up with them also….”
These days, the rabbis are quite concerned about the number of non-Jewish immigrants coming to Israel from the former Soviet Union—Gentile wives or husbands, or others who have only one grandparent who is Jewish. As you may know, according to Israel’s secular “Law of Return,” such people have to make aliyah. And they are using those rights. In the last few years, it is estimated that these non-Jewish, “mixed multitude” olim comprised more than a third of those returning. But looking at the first exodus, we see that this phenomenon is nothing new.
Now in verse 29 we learn about this guy Hobab. Who is he? Hobab is Moses’ brother-in-law. Hobab’s sister is Moses’ Midianite (Gentile) wife, Zipporah.
Despite the fact that Hobab is a Gentile, Moses actually pleads with his brother-in-law to make aliyah. Today’s rabbis seem to forget that. But I guess that’s just this rabbi’s opinion—well, not just any rabbi, but Moshe Rabbenu, or Rabbi Moses.
Now I need to point out that Hobab the Midianite was not just any Midianite Gentile either. The Midianites traditionally believed in many gods. And Hobab’s father, Jethro (also called Reuel) was actually a Midianite priest. Surely, Moses would not have pleaded with a pagan polytheist to make aliyah with the people of Israel, even if he was his brother-in-law. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that Hobab had come to believe in the God of Israel.
If we turn now to Exodus 18, we can see that Hobab’s father, Jethro, certainly came to faith. This is what we read about the conversion of Jethro the priest and family patriarch in verses 8-12: “8And Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. 9Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the LORD had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. 10And Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.’ 12Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God. And Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God [table fellowship with a new believer].”
If you know anything about the culture in those days, when the patriarch of the family changed his faith, usually the rest of the family followed. So when Moses pleaded with Hobab to come with the children of Israel to the Promised Land, it’s partly because Hobab had apparently become a believer when his father did. Thus, when Moses asked this Gentile to come with him to the land, he was almost certainly inviting someone who had become a member of the household of faith.
And let me add one more detail to the story. Even though Hobab at first refused Moses’ invitation, later in Judges 4:11 there is a reference to “Heber the Kenite, of the children of Hobab.” Well, we know that the Kenites had a special relationship with Israel even after they settled in the Promised Land. In fact, we read in 1 Samuel 15:5,6: “5And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley. 6Then Saul said to the Kenites, ‘Go, depart, get down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the children of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.’ So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.”
But these Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, were not only protected, but were also given a permanent dwelling place. It’s interesting that when Balaam gave his oracle of blessing upon Israel—rather than cursing, as King Balak had demanded—he included the Kenites in his blessing. We read in Numbers 24:20,21: “20Then he looked on Amalek, and he took up his oracle and said: ‘Amalek was first among the nations, but shall be last until he perishes.’ 21Then he looked on the Kenites, and he took up his oracle and said: ‘Firm is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock.’ ”
If you’re a Gentile, and you somehow think that you have been cheated and you’re missing something by not being Jewish, forget it. If you have believed the gospel, then you have Abraham’s faith. And if you have Abraham’s faith, then you are a son of Abraham. This is what it says in Galatians 3:8,9: “8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”
If you have believed the gospel that was preached to Abraham, then Abraham is your father. It doesn’t make you Jewish, but you are joined to Israel. As it says in Ephesians 2: 17-19: “17And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
And if you still feel like a second-class member of God’s family, look at Galatians. 3:26-28, words written primarily to non-Jews: “26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Now having Abraham’s faith doesn’t make you Jewish, just as males don’t become females or vice versa. But having Abraham’s faith in the gospel makes you a true child of Abraham and a child of God, the God of Israel.
So does this mean Gentile Christians can now make aliyah? Well, not according to Israel’s Law of Return. For now, those of us who are Gentiles and want to live here will have to settle for one of the various types of temporary or permanent residency, rather than receiving full citizenship. But the day is coming when all believers, even Gentile believers, will make “aliyah.” You see, “aliyah” means to “go up.” And the day is coming when all believers will go up to Jerusalem…and live in Jerusalem, “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). I’m talking, of course, about the New Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem.
In Revelation 7, where John describes the twelve tribes and the members who were sealed, he adds these words in verses 9-11: “9After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ 11All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.”
So that’s the first thing I wanted us to see from our Torah portion: that just as Hobab the Midianite was invited to join the children of Israel, so all Gentiles can have a place among God’s chosen people—if they have the faith of Abraham.
But now I want to move on to my next point. Not only can Gentiles have a significant place among God’s chosen people, but they can also have a significant role.
2. Gentile Christians have a role among God’s chosen people.
Moses wasn’t just interested in having Hobab’s company; he had a job for him to do. There was an important role that Hobab could play. We read about this in Numbers 10:30, 31: “30And he said to him, ‘I will not go, but I will depart to my own land and to my relatives.’ 31So Moses said, ‘Please do not leave, inasmuch as you know how we are to camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes.’ ”
Guiding God’s Chosen People to Their Land
So we see here that a Gentile is called to be a guide for the children of Israel as they make aliyah to the land of promise. In this regard, it’s interesting to read what the Lord says in Jeremiah 14:10: “Thus says the LORD to this people: ‘Thus they have loved to wander; they have not restrained their feet. Therefore the LORD does not accept them; He will remember their iniquity now, and punish their sins.’ ”
If this is true, then perhaps one of the most important jobs for Gentile believers is to help the Jews stop wandering, and show them the way back home. And it’s notable that only two chapters later in the book of Jeremiah, in 16:16, we read these words concerning the final aliyah, “ ‘Behold, I will send for many fishermen,’ says the Lord, ‘and they shall fish them….’ ”
Many Jewish people will not come home on their own. They need fishermen. They need those who will go and find the wandering Jewish people and guide them home. And those people who will help bring the Jews home will be Hobabs, Gentile believers who, as Moses said, “can be our eyes.”
Isaiah 49 shows us that indeed in the last days the Gentiles will have a significant role to play in the second exodus. Verse 22 says, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.’ ”
It’s fascinating to note the phrase that Moses uses in his invitation to Hobab: “You can be our eyes.” I know he’s talking about Hobab’s physical eyes; as an Arabian nomad, he had trained his eyes to know the desert trails to follow, just as Bedouin trackers today are experts in the Israeli army for this purpose. But I’d like to think that there is another way in which Gentile Christians can be the “eyes” of the Jewish people. We are those who have the “eyes of faith.” When the hundreds of Christian “fishermen” go door to door in the former Soviet Union to contact Jewish people, most of those Jews have no plans to come to Israel.
I remember knocking on a door in the Ukraine and a Jewish man invited us into his little home. I thought he was relatively poor, living in such a small place. So I thought he’d be attracted to the idea of returning to Israel, which a few years ago was becoming an economic powerhouse. But then this man went on to explain that he actually owned a shoe factory in Odessa and that he had a good business. He wouldn’t want to leave such a prosperous situation.
Well, the only thing we could do was to read him to the Scriptures that spoke about the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and to their God. And frankly, the more that Israel becomes a difficult place to live from both an economic and a security perspective, the more we will need to have those spiritual eyes of faith to see that Israel is the place to which the Jewish people should move.
We had to be that man’s spiritual eyes. Because it’s we Gentile believers who have eyes to see that in spite of the giants in the land, it is the land of hope. It is the land that God has blessed and it’s the place where God has made an appointment to meet with His covenant people once again.
Before I leave this point, I also want to mention that it is not only when we read the Scriptures to the Jewish people that we become their spiritual eyes, but also when we show them that we have actually provided the practical means for them to return—then they can be convinced that it’s time to go. What did it take for Jacob to be convinced that his son Joseph was still alive and that he should leave his comfort zone and go and visit him? Genesis 45:26-28 says: “26And they told him, saying, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.’ And Jacob’s heart stood still, because he did not believe them. 27But when they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived. 28Then Israel said, ‘It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.’ ”
Planting and Settling God’s Chosen People in Their Land
So we’ve seen how Gentile believers have a significant place among the people of Israel, and also how they have a significant role as “spiritual eyes” for the Jewish people. But now I wish to demonstrate a second way in which Gentile believers have a significant role. We see this second role in verse 31 of our text from Numbers 10. Moses says to Hobab, “Please do not leave, inasmuch as you know how we are to camp in the wilderness.”
I think of the many “camps” that Ebenezer, Exobus, Ezra, and other aliyah ministries have set up in various places around the world as way stations on the journey back to the Promised Land. Sometimes they are hotels and sometimes they are actual camps where the Jewish people gather after a long bus or train ride. They stay in those camps until their scheduled flight to Israel or until their ship departs.
It’s fascinating that today Gentile Christians are like Hobab to whom Moses said, “You know how we are to camp.” Recently, a believer came to my office and shared with me that a new ministry has been raised up to help plant Sephardic Jews in the Negev in a new development near Kibbutz Sde Boker. This is the kibbutz where David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, spent his last years and did his part to fulfill his vision to see the Negev Desert blossom like a rose and become a place filled with Jewish immigrants. Well, this believer showed me an interesting verse in Obadiah 20. It says there, “And the captives of this host of the children of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath. The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the South.”
Verse 31 of Numbers 10 speaks about many believers today who are here in Israel primarily to help the Jewish people establish their camp and put down their roots. They are involved in helping them set up their homes by providing them with essential household utensils and even food and clothing. We have a ministry that provides household appliances, so that they will be able to do more than just camp but stay put.
Before I move on from this discussion about the role of Gentile Christians in guiding the Jewish people home and assisting them in the process of getting planted and settled, I would miss something very important if I didn’t mention that this is not merely a human thing, but a God thing.
In God’s economy, there are practical and spiritual elements—human initiative and God’s initiative. These two aspects work hand in hand, even in our Torah portion. After Moses invites Hobab to be guide and camp director for the Jewish people in verse 31, we later read in verses 33 and 34: “33So they departed from the mountain of the LORD on a journey of three days; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them for the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them. 34And the cloud of the LORD was above them by day when they went out from the camp.”
Whatever work we do in aliyah must be Spirit-led. We must not in our prophetic excitement go to every rabbi and every synagogue and every Jewish community center and with our megaphone (or even an electric shofar) give them a blast. To help bring home God’s chosen people, we need to do it at God’s chosen time and in God’s chosen way. We need the ark of His presence to go before us and we need the cloud of the Holy Spirit to show us the way in order to show them the way.
3. Gentile Christians who take their place and fulfill their role among God’s chosen people are promised God’s blessings.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with words of encouragement: When Christians take their proper place and fulfill their proper role among God’s chosen people, i.e., in the work of aliyah, they will experience the blessings of God.
This is what we read in our passage in Numbers 10, in verses 29 and 32. First, let’s look again at verse 29, “Now Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, ‘We are setting out for the place of which the LORD said, “I will give it to you.” Come with us, and we will treat you well; for the LORD has promised good things to Israel.’ ” Then it says in verse 32: “ ‘And it shall be, if you go with us—indeed it shall be—that whatever good the LORD will do to us, the same we will do to you.’ ”
Was this just Moses’ way of manipulating Hobab to change his mind and come? Was Moses speaking only his own words, a promise that he planned to keep, but couldn’t really keep, seeing that he himself would die before entering the Promised Land? No, Moses was speaking a promise that God gives to those Gentiles who love and bless the Jewish people.
In His very covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12, as Abram was about to make aliyah from Ur of the Chaldees, the Lord Himself took an oath, saying: “1Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. 2I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ ”
There are many examples throughout the history of Israel of how Gentiles who put their faith in the God of Israel and blessed and helped the Jewish people were in turn blessed themselves.
Maybe the best example is Ruth, the Gentile Moabitess who accompanied and assisted her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi in her “aliyah” back to the land of Judah. She was blessed immeasurably for what she did. Boaz would later say these words to Ruth, his future bride, in Ruth 3:10, “Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter!” And we know that she was indeed blessed with the awesome privilege of bearing a son. We read in Ruth 4:17, “Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, ‘There is a son born to Naomi.’ And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” And we know that from the line of David came Israel’s Messiah.
My challenge to all of us today is: Let’s bless the nation of Israel by becoming involved in the work of aliyah. Especially as we do practical things, we will see the blessing of the Lord upon our work.
I’m convinced that in Matthew 25 the “least of these my brethren” to whom Yeshua refers are His own flesh-and-blood Jewish brethren. In light of that understanding, look at what He says in verses 37-40: “37‘Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” 40And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” ’ ” And then in verse 46 Yeshua says that those who minister to His brethren are the righteous who have the blessing of “eternal life.”
I can’t guarantee what other blessings you will receive by becoming involved in bringing home God’s chosen people. But there is some kind of awesome blessing that will be poured out upon you. In the words of Moses to Hobab in Numbers 10:32: “Whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same we will do to you.”