At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. (Bemidbar / Numbers 9:18; ESV)
The Jewish people have been called the "people of the book". One cannot underestimate the impact of the Torah and the rest of the Bible upon them and through them to the rest of the world. Not only does the God of Israel speak through the written words of Scripture, he himself wrote the Ten Commandments with his finger twice, both the original and replacement versions (see Shemot / Exodus 31:18; 34:28). ). Moses' successor, Joshua, was warned by God, "This Sefer HaTorah (English: Book of the Law) shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it" (Joshua 1:8; ESV). After years of neglect the rediscovery of the Sefer HaTorah during the reign of King Josiah precipitated spiritual and cultural renewal in the nation. God's written Word is celebrated in Tehillim, the Psalms (e.g. Tehillim / Psalms 1, 19, 119) as the only God-given source of truth and guidebook for life.
The inspiration and sufficiency of the Hebrew Scriptures is clearly supported by the New Covenant writings:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17; ESV).
But does this mean that the act of studying the Bible is sufficient in itself for God's people to become all that God intends us to be? Many years ago, not long after I first came to believe in Yeshua as the Messiah, I was in the home of some Hasidic (ultra-orthodox) Jewish people. I was sharing my story of how my new faith resulted in the healing of my panic attacks. My assertion that Yeshua was our long-expected Messiah and King was not appreciated by them, but when I explained the positive effects of my beliefs, they looked at each other and said with a nod, "Torah!" They believed that it was my exposure to God's written word, in spite of my being deeply misguided, that affected my healing. It didn't matter whether or not I understood the Scripture, believed it, or obeyed it. According to these people, the Torah acted like a magic charm.
The problem with this approach to Torah and the rest of the Bible is that the Bible doesn't see itself this way. Perhaps the Bible's own understanding of itself was best summarized by the Messiah following his most extensive teaching on Torah when he said,
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it (Matthew 7:24-27; ESV)
The Scriptures demand response. The Scriptures call us to trust God. The Scriptures direct us to obey God. The Scriptures expose us to what it means to properly relate to God. Any attempt to turn God's written word into a magic charm, a collection of mythical stories designed to warm our hearts, a set of cold detached moral principles, or a pretext for religious abuse is a complete misrepresentation. Instead the Scriptures invite us into an intimate encounter with a very personal God.
This week's Torah portion illustrates the personal aspect of God's nature. The people of the Torah were not guided in the wilderness through the words of Torah. Rather God called Israel into a great adventure through the wilderness and the conquest of the Promised Land. How to go about this cannot be found in the Torah's directives, but through the direct guidance of God in the pillar of cloud and fire. As it stayed or moved, so did the people.
While the Scriptures are full of timeless principles to live by and provide wonderful descriptions of God's nature and character that should profoundly impact us, the Bible encourages us to pay close attention to the dynamic and personal aspects of our relationship to the Master of the Universe. Through the Messiah and by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (English: the Holy Spirit) within the bounds of the objective truth revealed in Scripture, we need to grow in sensitivity to God's leading in our lives.