Archive for May, 2013

Numbers 21-23

Today’s reading begins with the destruction of Arad and concludes with the second of Balaam’s four oracles.

In the chapters of Numbers covered in today’s reading we see Israel defeat a series of enemies in their journey through the wilderness to their eventual final destination of the Promised Land. The king of Arad was the first enemy destroyed. He had fought against Israel and had captured a number of Israelites. Israel made a vow to God that if He would give them victory that they would devote the people and their cities to destruction and God gave them the victory over the Canaanites of Arad.

On their way to the Promised Land, the people of Israel required passage through the land of inhabitants of the land. In this instance, Israel made petition to the King of Sihon for passage through his land. The King denied the request and went out to battle against Israel. God once again gave Israel the victory over this people and the people settled in the cities of the land ruled by King Sihon.

While living in the land once ruled by the defeated King Sihon, the Israelites sent out spies into the land of Jazer as commanded by Moses. The Israelites forced out the Amorites living in the land of Jazer and turned their sights to Bashan and its king, Og. The Israelites completely destroyed the people ruled by Og and possessed the land.

After a string of victories over the inhabitants of the land, the Israelites appeared to have developed a bit of a reputation and fear of them motivated one of the inhabitants of the land to seek out God to curse the people through a holy man of the area by the name of Balaam. It was the people of Moab who sought out Balaam’s assistance. The Moabites were the ancient cousins of the people of Israel, Moab being the one of the children of the incestuous actions initiated by Lot’s oldest daughter with her father.

In summoning Balaam, the people of Moab were unaware that God had seen their actions and that God intended to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel. After being summoned by the Moabites, Balaam made his way to meet their king, Balak. On his journey, the angel of the LORD blocked the path that Balaam was journeying on. Balaam could not see the angel, but his donkey could. The donkey saw that the angel of the LORD had drawn his sword and was preparing to kill Balaam. His donkey continued to turn aside and avoid the angel until the angel had blocked every possible route and the donkey stopped moving. Frustrated by the actions of his donkey he yelled at the donkey and through a miracle, God opened the mouth of the donkey to speak to Balaam. The donkey told him that he wasn’t trying to be obstinate or disobedient, but rather was trying to save Balaam from sure death. It was at this time that the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel of the LORD with his sword drawn prepared to slay Balaam if he continued on his journey.

The angel of the LORD spoke to Balaam and told him that he could go to King Balak, but regardless of the situtation, he was to speak only the words that the LORD would give to Balaam and ignore the pleadings of the king. For his first oracle, Balaam blessed the people of Israel stating that it was his wish to “let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!”. Balak was angered by this blessing thinking that essentially Balaam would act as his hired ‘gun’ to curse the Israelites. Thinking that if only Balaam had a different look at the Israelites that his blessing would turn into a curse, Balak took Balaam to another place that overlooked the camp of Israel from a different vantage point. Balaam again spoke the words of God which was a blessing upon the people of Israel. In this second blessing came one of my favorite verses:

“God is not man, that He should lie, or the son of man, that He should change his mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” Numbers 23:19

Balak would soon find out that a different vantage point wasn’t going to fix the problem that he faced in dealing with the people of Israel.

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Numbers 17-20

Today’s reading begins with the budding of Aaron’s staff and concludes with the death of Aaron on Mount Hor.

After the rebellion of Korah, the LORD gave the people of Israel another chance to see what His will was for the people of Israel and their worship. Moses had representatives from all of the twelve tribes of Israel bring a staff before the LORD at the tent of meeting. Each staff was to have the name of the chief inscribed on the staff. In the morning when Moses returned to the staffs, Aaron’s staff representing the tribe of Levi had blossomed and bore ripe almonds. This miracle was to indicate once and for all to the people of Israel that the tribe of Levi was chosen by God to minister to him in the Tabernacle.

After giving more rules and procedures to Moses for the practices of the Tabernacle, the text briefly mentions several significant events. The first of these events was the death of Moses’ sister Miriam. Miriam was by far the most prominent woman of the Exodus, through Leviticus, and up to this point in Numbers.

After the death of Miriam, the people of Israel again grumbled before Moses about the lack of water and the lack of variety of food that the LORD had provided for the people. At other times in the past, Moses had taken his staff and struck a rock and water would proceed forth from rock. In this instance, however, God spoke to Moses and commanded him that instead of striking the rock to produce water that he was to speak to the rock in order for it to produce water. Moses, however, in his anger spoke a rebuke to the people and then struck the rock as in the past. God is His mercy to the people of Israel permitted water to proceed forth from the rock, but because of his disobedience in this event, God banned Moses and Aaron from entering the promised land.

As the people journeyed closer to their final destination, they came upon the land of Edom. Edom was the brother of Israel and although Edom and Israel had parted ways peacefully back in Genesis, it’s obvious from this text that the two groups of people still harbored ill will toward one another. Moses wanted to shorten their journey by travelling through the land of Edom, but Edom refused to allow them passage. Even after Moses guaranteed to make a straight journey through the land of Edom reimbursing the people of Edom for any resources they used along the way, Edom refused to grant passage and took up arms against the people of Israel to ensure that they would not pass.

Having been prevented from entering the Promised Land by God, the LORD told Aaron that he would die on Mount Hor. God called Aaron’s son Eleazar up to the mountain along with Moses and Aaron. Moses took Aaron’s priestly vestments and clothed Eleazar with them. When Moses and Eleazar came down from Mount Hor, Moses informed the people of Israel that Aaron had passed away. The grief of the people was great and they mourned for 30 days after the death of Aaron.

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Numbers 15-16

Today’s reading begins with a discussion of laws for sacrifices and concludes with the aftermath of Korah’s rebellion.

In leading a group of two million people through the wilderness, you can imagine that the leader of the group would face challenges to his leadership. Moses faced many such challenges, but the rebellion of the people of Korah was one of the more dramatic episodes.

Korah along with several other men of some notoriety had grown tired of Moses and his leadership and wanted a change. This was no small group of highly vocal men. In addition Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On, there were 250 chiefs of the tribes of Israel that had been selected from the congregation to represent the complaints of the people of Israel. This was likely the strongest and most organized challenge to Moses’ leadership. Moses told the men that they should all assemble the next day before the LORD at the Tabernacle, and God would judge who should lead the people.

On the following day the men assembled before the LORD at the tent of meeting and God spoke to Moses telling him that they should separate themselves from Korah, Datham, and Abiram. After telling the people to separate themselves from the leaders of the rebellion, God opened up the earth and swallowed up the leaders of the rebellion along with their entire families. After the earth swallowed up the men and their families, fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 chiefs of the tribes of Israel.

The day after God took the lives of the men leading the rebellion against Moses’ leadership, the people of Israel grumbled against Moses for the deaths of their chiefs. In response, the LORD sent out a plague among the people. Moses commanded Aaron to make atonement for the sin of rebellion of the people to the LORD in order to restrain God’s hand of judgment. Before the LORD’s anger had been checked, 14,700 people had died.

The people of Israel and their grumbling are always amazing to read. I always have to remind myself of the own rebellion in which I regularly engage. It’s really easy for me to look down on the people of Israel: criticizing their actions and being extremely critical of their lack of faith even after having seen the glory of God and spectacular miracles. Knowing that given the opportunity I would have participated in some of the same foolishness and willful, sinful rebellion against God helps me see how desperately wicked I am and merciful God is.

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Numbers 11-14

Today’s reading begins with the Israelites complaints of Israel about a lack of meat to eat and concludes with the defeat of Israel in battle.

As had been the case in the past, so again the people of Israel complained before God and Moses how they missed being in Egypt and all of the food that they used to enjoy eating while they were there. The people had grown tired of the “what is it?” from God and desired to eat meat once again. God was enraged with their complaints and chose to give them what they wanted. He caused a wind to blow and brought in quail from the direction of the sea. The amount of quail that came up near the camp of Israel was enough to cover the ground three-feet deep. The quail lay on the ground approximately one day’s journey from the camp and when the people began collecting the dead quail. The person who gathered the least of the quail gathered ten homers. For comparison’s sake, a homer was 220 liters. So the smallest amount the was gathered was 2220 liters of quail. That must have been a sight to see.

The desire of the Israelites got the best of them and they couldn’t wait to eat the quail but instead of getting to enjoy the feast set before them, God struck those who were eating with a plague and many people died because of it.

After the plague relating to the quail, there is a brief story that might be easily overlooked but bears at least mentioning. Both Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother complained to him that they were angry that he had married a Cushite woman. My perception of people who are critical of God as described in the Old Testament is that they believe Him to be a racist God because of many of the stories that we will come upon in future texts in the Bible. What those critics tend to overlook is this passage. When Miriam, Aaron, and Moses come before God to discuss this conflict, God strikes Miriam with leprosy for a week because of the words she speaks about her sister in law of a different ethnicity or race. As shown in this passage, God is content with Moses choice for a wife even though she is a member of a different ethnicity and cultural background. Although many people throughout the history of the world have used the Bible to justify their own racist sentiments, it’s obvious from this and other passages in the Bible that God’s destruction of other people groups at the hands of the Israelites wasn’t because of their ethnicity, it was for a different reason altogether. As we will see in future readings, the reason for God’s command to destroy other people groups wasn’t related to their skin color it was because of their gross acts of sin before God.

The LORD called upon Moses to send out spies into the land in which the Israelites were to settle. After being sent out for forty days into the wilderness to spy out the promised, upon their return, many of the men gave a bad report of the promised land. Although the land was abundant in resources, there would be enemies to fight who appeared to many to be stronger than the Israelites. This bad report from the majority of those who had been sent to spy out the land greatly discouraged the people of Israel. Only two of the spies sent out, Joshua and Caleb, returned a good report from the land. These two men had confidence that God would do as He had promised and give the Israelites the land.

God’s anger was kindled against the people of Israel for their lack of faith in His ability to bring them into the land that He had promised to them. He was once again prepared to destroy Israel for their lack of faith, but Moses interceded on behalf of the people. Instead of destroying all of the people who had questioned God, God chose to punish the people who had doubted God by disallowing them from being able to enter into the promised land. Until all those who had lacked faith had perished, the people of Israel would be forced to wander in the wilderness.

Some of the people chose to defy the decision that God had made and instead went up into the promised land and decided to try and take the land in their own strength. Moses tried to dissuade them from doing so, but in their obstinance, the people went up into the land of the Canaanites and the Amalekites and were defeated there.

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Numbers 8-10

Today’s reading begins with setting up of the lamps in the Tabernacle and concludes with the Israelites setting out from Mount Sinai.

The topics covered in the reading for today relate to the service of the Levites in the Tabernacle. The first section of the reading covers the cleansing and ordination of the Levites. Each of the Levites was to be sprinkled with the water of purification and shave the hair of their bodies. Then the Levites were to be presented before the people of Israel and offered to the LORD and two bulls, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. The Levites themselves are offered to the LORD in a wave offering. The text at this point reiterates the fact that the LORD claims the firstborn of everything in Israel, but instead of requiring the firstborn, the LORD instead takes the Levites as his portion. The Levites were to serve from the age of twenty-five until they were fifty. After this point they were to cease serving.

In addition to the ordaining of the Levites, the Passover is celebrated. This marks the second year after the people of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt. Some of the people were unable to celebrate this Passover because of being unclean from having to deal with the dead or being on a long journey during the time of celebration. The LORD made provision for them to celebrate the Passover the month after the Passover was celebrated. All the people of Israel were to celebrate the Passover each year or else those who had not celebrated the Passover would be cut off from having fellowship with their brothers in Israel.

Shortly after the alternative time of Passover celebration, in the second month of the second year on the twentieth day, the people of Israel set out from Sinai into the wilderness. The Tabernacle was disassembled as the LORD had instructed Moses to do. The ark of the LORD was sent out a three-days’ journey ahead of the rest of the camp to find the place where the LORD desired for the people of Israel to stop and rest.

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Numbers 6-7

Today’s reading begins with the requirements for fulfilling the vow of the Nazirite and concludes with the dedication of the altar of the Tabernacle.

The Nazirite vow was a special vow that the people of Israel were free to make before the LORD. The vow was not restricted to just men, but rather was open to both men and women to perform if they so chose. The requirements of the vow were that it be for a predetermined amount of time and the person entering into the vow abstained from wine and other alcoholic drinks, vinegar or any kind, grapes, raisins, grape juice, and any grape product whatsoever. In addition to these eating requirements, the person under a Nazirite vow was not to cut his hair and the hair of the Nazirite would grow long.

In addition to these requirements, a Nazirite was not to touch a dead body, even of their father or mother and thereby make themselves ceremonially unclean. If for some reason a Nazirite were sitting next to someone who suddenly died and became unclean, the Nazirite was to shave his head and the number of days the person had been in the vow would be voided and the person would need to restart their days of counting towards the vow after they had become clean once again.

After the days of the Nazirite vow had been completed, the Nazirite was to make a sacrifice substantial sacrifice to the LORD, shave his head at the front of the tent of meeting, and the hair along with the other sacrificial elements were offered to the LORD in fire on the altar.

The reading for today concludes with the complete recording of the offerings presented at the consecration of the Tabernacle. Representatives from each tribe of Israel presented offerings, one tribe per day for twelve days. The offerings for each day from each tribe were the same: one silver plate weighing 130 shekels, one silver basic weighing 70 shekels both filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one golden dish weighing 10 shekels and filled with incense; one bull, one ram, and one year-old male lamb for a burnt offering; one male goat as a sin offering; and a peace offering that was comprised of two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five year-old male lambs.

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Numbers 4-5

Today’s reading begins with a listing of the duties of the Kohathites and concludes with the prescription for determining the faithfulness of a man’s wife.

The LORD instructed Moses that among all the tribe of Levi that the sons of Kohath were to be responsible for the most of holy of responsibilities for tending to the tent of meeting. The sons of Kohath numbered 2,750 men between the ages of 20 and 50. The duties that the men of Kohath were assigned to perform related to the transport of the Tabernacle and all its holy things after Aaron and his sons had disassembled and stored the holy things of the temple. The Kohathites were assigned to bear the burden of transporting the holy things of the Tabernacle, but were not to touch the holy things. Even while they were being instructed as to their duties, the Kohathites were not even to look upon the holy things, lest the LORD strike them dead.

In addition to the holy things of the Tabernacle two additional sons of the tribe of the Levites were assigned duties related to the transport of the Tabernacle: the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari. The sons of Gershon of the tribe of the Levites were to be responsible for the carrying of the curtains of the tent of meeting and the tent of meeting itself including wall hangings located within the Tabernacle. The sons of Merari of the tribe of the Levites were responsible for transporting the framed members of the Tabernacle.

The final portion of today’s reading describes what actions a man should take if he suspected his wife of having committed adultery. Whether or not a man had proof of his wife’s infidelity was not a requirement for bringing his wife before the priest and having the priest perform the ritual for making a determination of infidelity. The husband was required to bring a small grain offering without oil or incense. This was offered to the LORD. Then the priest was required to make the “water of bitterness that brings the curse”. This water was made by the priest by combining holy water and dust from the floor of the Tabernacle. The woman was required to make an oath given to her from the priest and then she was to drink of the water of bitterness that brings the curse. If she had committed adultery against her husband, the water would cause her womb to swell and cause her great pain. She would then be cursed among her people. If she had not committed adultery the water would simply pass through her body without ill effect and then she would be free to conceive and bear children. The husband who brought his wife before the priest to perform this ritual was free of any guilt and it was only the adulterous wife would bear any guilt.

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