Monday, March 26, 2007

Numbers 4

Numbers 4: Tasks assigned to the Levites

Synopsis

This chapter is sort of a continuation from the last one. Numbers 3 was a census of the Levites, while Chapter 4 outlines the three clans within the Levites, and their specific responsibilities.

For each clan—the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites—Moses and Aaron are instructed to count all of the men from thirty to fifty years of age, who are able to “serve in the work in the Tent of Meeting” (verse 3). The LORD then gives specific commands about each clan, and what their responsibilities are to be:

  • The Kohathites were to care for “the most holy things” (verse 4)—but not until Aaron and his sons had covered them all up!
    • When the camp was to move, Aaron and his sons were to take down the shielding curtain—I belive this is the curtain to the Most Holy Place—and use it to cover the Ark. They would then cover that with hides of sea cows (or dugongs), and then spread a cloth of solid blue over that, and finally put the poles in place, for carrying the Ark.
    • Similarly, they were to cover up the Table of the Presence, along with its plates, dishes and bowls: They were to cover the table with a blue cloth, and put the plates, dishes, and bowls on top of it. They were then to spread a scarlet cloth over all of that, then then cover it all with hides of sea cows. Finally, they were to put the table’s poles in place.
    • The Lampstand, along with its lamps, wick trimmers, trays, and jars of oil, was to be covered with a blue cloth, and then wrapped in hides of sea cows. It was then to be placed on a carrying frame.
    • They were to cover the Altar with a blue cloth, and then cover that with hides of sea cows, before putting the carrying poles in place
    • All of the articles used for ministering in the sanctuary were to be wrapped in a blue cloth, and then covered with hides of sea cows, before being placed on a carrying frame
    • The ashes were to be removed from the bronze altar, and a purple cloth was to be spread over it. All of its related utensils were then to be placed on it, and covered with hides of sea cows, before its carrying poles were put in place.
    • All of the above steps were to be performed by Aaron and his sons. Once this was all done, the Kohathites were to carry these articles, but they were not to directly touch the things, or they would die.
    • Verse 16 says that Aaron’s son Eleazar was to be in charge of “the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering and the anointing oil.” It also says, though, that he was to be in charge of “the entire tabernacle and everything in it, including its holy furnishings and articles.” So I guess he was to be in charge, but I’m wondering why special attention was paid to the articles at the beginning of the verse; maybe because he himself (or his family) was to carry these articles, and the Kohathites were to carry everything else? In any event, the Kohathites were not to do anything on their own; Aaron and his sons were to be in charge—I’m guessing Eleazar (and his descendants) were to be the primary people in charge—and assign each Kohathite the work he was to do. The Kohathites were not even to look at the holy things, or they would die.
  • The Gershonites were to be responsible for carrying all of the curtains for the tabernacle.
    • As with the Kohathites, the Gershonites were to be assigned tasks by Aaron and his sons—specifically Ithamar, and, I guess, his descendants.
  • The Merarites were to carry the frames of the tabernacle (crossbars and poles, posts, bases, ropes, pegs, etc.).
    • Again, as with the Kohathites and Gershonites, they were to do all of their work under the direction of Aaron and his sons, specifically Ithamar.
So Moses and Aaron counted the Levites, as commanded. There were 2,750 Kohathites, 2,630 Gershonites, and 3,200 Merarites.

Thoughts

Although I’ve read all of this before, it wasn’t until I started blogging through all of these rules that it dawned on me the separation between Aaron and his sons and the Levites. I keep thinking of the Levites in the Old Testament as being “the priests,” but it’s really just Aaron and his sons that were the priests; the Levites were the priests’ helpers.

And other than that, I don’t have anything to say about this chapter.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Numbers 3

Numbers 3: A census of the Levites

Synopsis

This chapter is mostly concerned with a census of the Levites, including extra detail about where the different Levite tribes were to camp, around the Tabernacle. (See the Numbers 2 post for a diagram.) However, there is some other detail included in this chapter, as well.

The chapter starts by listing Aaron’s sons:

The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Those were the names of Aaron’s sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. Nadab and Abihu, however, fell dead before the LORD when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai. They had no sons; so only Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron. (verses 2–4)

I find the genealogies in the Old Testament often do that; in the middle of a big list of names, some extra details will be thrown in, to remind you of some event that happened to the people in question.

The LORD then tells Moses to give the Levites to Aaron, to be his helpers in doing the work of the Tabernacle. Aaron and his sons are to be the High Priests, and the Levites are to do the work of taking care of the Tabernacle.

God then expands on this, and tells Moses that He has taken the Levites as His, in place of the firstborn male of every Israelite woman. By all rights, every firstborn male in Israel should belong to the LORD, but, instead, He has chosen to take the entire tribe of Levi to be His.

In verses 14–37, the Levites are counted.

At the end of the survey, though, there is a problem: God has taken the Levites to be His, in place of every firstborn male in Israel, but the numbers don’t add up:

The total number of Levites counted at the LORD’s command by Moses and Aaron according to their clans, including every male a month old or more, was 22,000.

The LORD said to Moses, “Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the LORD.”

So Moses counted all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the LORD commanded him. The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273.

The LORD also said to Moses, “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD. To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.”

So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites. From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD.

(verses 39–51)


Close is not good enough, for God.

Thoughts

I don’t really have any deep thoughts about this chapter.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Numbers 2

Numbers 2: The Arrangement of Tribal Camps

Synopsis

Although the Israelites don’t know it yet, they’re going to spend the foreseeable future wandering around the desert, because God is not going to bring them to the Promised Land for 40 years. (We’ll read why later on.) So they’re going to be breaking camp, moving on, and setting camp back up. But they are not just to set up their tents in any old way—in this chapter, God gives them instructions, as to what families/tribes are to set up in what locations. The Tabernacle will be in the centre of the camp, and the Israelite tribes will surround it, in a prescribed pattern.

I won’t bother going through the whole chapter, for this blog entry, saying “this tribe will set up on the South, and that tribe will be beside them…” Instead, I’ll just put up a diagram of how the camp was to be set up.



The Tabernacle is in the middle, obviously, and the Merarites, Gershonites, and Kohathites are parts of the Levite tribe, which is why they’re to be directly surrounding the Tabernacle.

Thoughts

As is probably going to be the case for much of the book of Numbers, I don’t have much to say about this chapter.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Numbers 1

Numbers 1: A Census

Synopsis

You could view the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy as books which are geared toward preparing the Israelites for becoming a new nation. Leviticus was concerned with laws, and, as the name implies, many people associate Numbers with numbers—censuses, and other lists. Appropriately enough, it opens, in this chapter, with a census of the Israelite people.

The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each the head of his family, is to help you.”

The chapter then goes on, in verses 5–16, to list the heads of the families who are to assist Moses and Aaron in taking the census.

So, they do. Moses and Aaron, along with the heads of the families, take a census of the Israelite community. Verses 20–43 list all of the people, broken down by tribe. The format is the same for each tribe:

From the descendants of X:
All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of X was Y.

The results were as follows; from the descendants of:

  • Reuban: 46,500
  • Simeon: 59,300
  • Gad: 45,650
  • Judah: 74,600
  • Issachar: 54,400
  • Zebulun: 57,400
  • Joseph: The descendants of Joseph were broken down into the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh:
    • Ephraim: 40,500
    • Manasseh: 32,200
  • Benjamin: 35,400
  • Dan: 62,700
  • Asher: 41,500
  • Naphtali: 53,400
In total, 603,550. The Levites were not counted, because:

The LORD had said to Moses: “You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony—over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp around it. Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who goes near it shall be put to death. The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each man in his own camp under his own standard. The Levites, however, are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the Testimony so that wrath will not fall on the Israelite community. The Levites are to be responsible for the care of the tabernacle of the Testimony.” (verses 48–53)

I believe this partially had to do with the purpose of the census; God had said in verse 3 “You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army” (emphasis added). The Levites, as the LORD’s chosen priests, were not to serve in the army, so there was no need to include them in the census.

Thoughts

Many—most?—Christians skim through the book of Numbers, because it’s very hard to get practical spiritual lessons out of a list of Israelite men who were eligible to serve in the army. I’m going to have that same problem, as I try to blog through the book.

If one wanted, one could probably use these numbers of army-eligible men to extrapolate the probable population of the nation of Israel, at the time, but for me, that number would be meaningless without knowing the relative populations of the surrounding nations. So the Israelite army was 600,000; how big were the armies of other nations? Did this make Israel a small nation, or a medium-sized one, or a large one? (We actually know that they were a small nation, because God told them so, in another passage. I believe that other passage was in Deuteronomy, and went something like “I did not choose you because you were the biggest of nations, rather because you were the smallest,” but I spent a few minutes searching for it, and couldn’t find it. Yet one more reason why I wouldn’t be allowed to be a pastor; pastors have to know things like that…)

I even put together a graph, showing the relative sizes of each of the clans, but they all turned out to be pretty close to each other, so it didn’t tell me much either.

Numbers 1 Census

From this we can see that Judah was the largest clan, and Manasseh was the smallest, but really, they’re all in the same ballpark. The only interesting thing is the fact that the clans of Ephraim and Manasseh were not noticeably smaller than the other clans, even though they were only “half tribes.” (Yes, Manasseh was the smallest, but it’s not like it’s tiny compared to the others.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Leviticus Summary

If you’re the type of Christian who spends most of your time in the New Testament, and not so much in the Old Testament, then you probably haven’t spent much time at all in Leviticus. The book is almost completely concerned with rules and regulations that the LORD handed down to the Israelites. There is some action—such as the Glory of the LORD appearing in Chapter 9, or Aaron’s sons being punished for their sin in Chapter 10—but for the most part, the book consists of rules.

My main Bible is a New Student Bible (NIV), which has a lot of explanatory notes in it. The introduction to Leviticus had an interesting analogy:

Leviticus reads something like a training manual for atomic plant workers. Its “dangerous material,” however, is more powerful than the atom. Leviticus gives exhaustive detail on how to live with God.

A pamphlet on “how to survive a nuclear accident” may be dull if read on vacation, but it’s gripping if read in a vibrating nuclear reactor. Similarly, Leviticus is dull if you do not realize the wonderful news behind it: a powerful God, the Creator of the universe, has entered the life of a small and insignificant tribe. The Israelites could not merely fit this God into their lives. They needed to restructure their lifes—food, sex, economics—to fit with his. It was essential not just for priests, but for everyone.

Ignoring this manual could be deadly. It was for Aaron’s two sons (chapter 10).


They also had some advice, for reading through Leviticus: Unlike many other books in the Bible—or all of them, for that matter—you often don’t want to read through Leviticus paying careful attention to the details. Instead, you might want to look at the “big picture:” how would a particular law make the Israelites different from the nations around them? Why would God want them to be different in those ways? Since I’m not an Israelite, I don’t have to remember all of the dietary rules they had to follow; on the other hand, I can learn something about God’s nature by reading these rules, regulations, and commandments.

To get a more well-rounded understanding of who the LORD is, you should read Leviticus and then read Hebrews, in the New Testament. Leviticus gives us, in painstaking detail, a picture of how Holy God is, and how He must not be lightly approached; Hebrews outlines why the New Testament system of faith in Christ is superior to all of the sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus.

All of the rituals outlined in Leviticus are just that: rituals. They couldn’t save the Israelites from their sin; only Christ could do that. But without the book of Leviticus—along with Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers—and all of the regulations outlined therein, we would not have a complete picture of the holiness of God.

  • Leviticus 1: Rules for Burnt Offerings
  • Leviticus 2: Rules for grain offerings
  • Leviticus 3: Rules for Fellowship Offerings
  • Leviticus 4: Rules for Sin Offerings
  • Leviticus 5: Examples of unintentional sins
  • Leviticus 6: Rules about deception, and burnt, grain, and sin offerings
  • Leviticus 7: Rules for Guilt and Fellowship offerings; the eating of fat and blood forbidden; the priests’ share of offerings
  • Leviticus 8: Aaron and his sons are ordained
  • Leviticus 9: Aaron and his sons begin their ministry, and the Glory of the LORD appears
  • Leviticus 10: Aaron’s sons are killed
  • Leviticus 11: Rules for clean and unclean food
  • Leviticus 12: Rules for “purification” after childbirth
  • Leviticus 13: Rules for infectious skin diseases, and mildew
  • Leviticus 14: Rules for cleansing from infectious skin diseases and mildew

Leviticus 27

Leviticus 27: Dedications to the LORD

Synopsis

The rules in this chapter seems a bit strange to me, and I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing or not. But this chapter gives rules and regulations for “dedicating” persons, animals, or possessions, to the LORD, as well as rules for “redeeming” them, meaning that you could “un-dedicate” something, and make it your property again.

Since I’m not familiar with this concept, I’ve taken the step of doing a bit of research, first, on what all this means. First, from a page by someone named David Guzik:

What did it mean to consecrate a person to the LORD? It could be done either for one’s self, or on behalf of another (such as consecrating a child unto the LORD). This was a completely voluntary act, meant to demonstrate that this person was totally given to God.

The beauty of these commands is that it gave the one making a vow of consecration something definite to do; the vow of consecration was therefore far more than mere words, it had a definite action associated with it—and prevented people from making empty vows to God.


And then… well, I didn’t find any other concise explanations. And I don’t even know who David Guzik is.

So, in essence, when you dedicated a person—including yourself—or an animal or a possession to God, it became God’s property, and you paid to make it happen.

The chapter starts off by listing out the prices for dedicating people to the LORD:

  • Males between 20 and 60 would be valued at 0.6 kilograms of silver
  • Females between 20 and 60 would be valued at 0.3 kilograms of silver
  • Males from 5 to 20 would be valued at 0.2 kilograms of silver
  • Females from 5 to 20 would be valued at 110 grams of silver
  • Males from one month to 5 years would be valued at 55 grams of silver
  • Females from one month to 5 years would be valued at 35 grams of silver
  • Males over 60 years would be valued at 170 grams of silver
  • Females over 60 years would be valued at 100 grams of silver
  • If someone couldn’t afford the specified value as outlined here, the person to be dedicated was to be brought to the priest, who would determine a value, based on what the person could afford
So, basically, if you wanted to dedicate a person to the LORD, you would go to the priest and pay the specified amount to make it official.

Similar rules were set out for dedicating animals to the LORD:

  • If the animal to be dedicated was an animal that would be acceptable as an offering:
    • Once the animal was dedicated, it would be considered holy
    • Once the animal had been accepted, the person offering it was not allowed to substitute another animal
      • If a person did try to substitute animals, both animals would become holy, and dedicated to the LORD—both the original one, and the substitute
  • If the animal to be dedicated was not an animal that would be acceptable as an offering:
    • It was to be presented to the priest, who would “judge its quality as good or bad” (verse 12)
    • Whatever price the priest set, that’s what the person would have to pay
  • If the owner wished to redeem the animal, he was to add a fifth to the value.
I have two questions about the last part: 1) I’m not sure, based on the context, if this applied only to “unclean” animals, that weren’t acceptable as an offering, or all animals; 2) When adding a fifth, I’m not sure if the person only had to pay the extra fifth, to redeem the animal, or if the entire amount plus a fifth was to be paid.

There were similar rules for dedicating houses:

  • The priest would judge the house, and set its value appropriately.
  • If the man wanted to redeem the house, he would add a fifth to its value, and it would become his again.
I find it interesting that priests were required to know how to set property values.

For land—I think this is especially for farmland—the rules are a bit more calculable:

  • The value for “family land” was to be set based on how much seed was required to plant it; for every 220 litres of barley seed required, the value would be 0.6 kilograms of silver
  • The value was to be reduced, in years between the Year of Jubilee, and calculated based on the number of years until the next one. (If the field was dedicated on the Year of Jubilee, the full price would be set, and then every year it would be reduced, until the next Year of Jubilee.)
  • If the man wanted to redeem the field, he could do so by adding a fifth to its value.
    • There is a rider on this, however, that says that if the man does not redeem the field, or sells it to someone else, it can never be redeemed. I’m not sure what this means, because I wouldn’t think he could sell the field if it had been dedicated to the LORD; in fact, verse 28 explicitly says this:

      But nothing that a man owns and devotes to the LORD—whether man or animal or family land—may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD.

      So I’m really not sure what this means.
    • Similarly, if the field remains dedicated to the LORD until the Year of Jubilee, it will become holy, and the property of the priests.
  • If a man bought a field, which was not his family’s land, the rules were a bit different. Basically, everything is the same, except that in the Year of Jubilee, the land would revert back to the original family from which it originated.
I wouldn’t have thought of this last part, but it makes sense. Since all land was supposed to revert to its original family, in the Year of Jubilee, it means that you couldn’t permanently dedicate bought land to the LORD; you could only temporarily dedicate it, until the Year of Jubilee.

So far, the rules are about dedicating things to the LORD, but what about things that already belong to the LORD?

  • The Israelites weren’t allowed to dedicate the firstborn of an animal, since the firstborn already belonged to the LORD.
  • For the “clean” animals—the ones that were acceptable as sacrifices—there are no further rules; they were to be sacrificed, as outlined in other chapters.
  • For the “unclean” animals, the person was to pay its set value. Or, he could redeem the animal, by adding a fifth to its value.
  • A tenth of everything produced from the land was to belong to the LORD. It could be redeemed, by adding a fifth to its value.
  • Similarly, a tenth of every herd and flock belonged to the LORD.

Thoughts

I just wish I understood the rules in this chapter better, so that I could write something intelligent here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

No post for today

I’m feeling sort of run-down, today, and I just don’t have the heart to delve into Leviticus 27, which is another chapter of rules and regulations. (This is the reason that so many people don’t read the Old Testament—they start at Genesis, like I’ve done for this blog, and try and read it straight through, and then get bogged down somewhere around Leviticus or Numbers. For the same reason, I can’t let this blog become my only time to study the Bible, or I’ll be so bogged down with legality that I’ll forget who Christ is!)

So, in lieu of a post on Leviticus 27, I’ll just put up a couple of quotes from a recent talk by Piper, that I found on the Pure Church blog:

If we create a kind of Christianity that says there is no truth we will simply create a kind of Christianity that colonizes slaves.

When relativism holds sway in a society over time sooner or later more and more people do what is right in their own eyes. And when enough people do what’s right in their own eyes we call it anarchy. There are only two solutions to anarchy. One is revival. Or a dictator.

I don’t normally look at this blog on the weekend—and this weekend is going to be atypically busy anyway—so I’ll probably tackle Leviticus 27 on Monday.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Leviticus 26

Leviticus 26: Rewards for obedience, and punishments for disobedience

Synopsis

The book of Leviticus, almost in its entirety, has been concerned with rules and regulations. In this chapter, God outlines for the Israelites what will happen to them if they obey those rules, and what will happen if they don’t.

First, however, He begins the chapter by reminding them of some rules He has already given them:

Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God.

Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD.

(verses 1–2)


God then outlines for the Israelites what will happen if they obey Him, if they “follow [His] decrees and are careful to obey [His] commands” (verse 3):
  • He will send rain in its season
  • The ground will yield its crops, and the trees will bear fruit
  • Their threshing will continue until the grape harvest, and the grape harvest will continue until planting—this part isn’t as immediately accessible, to me, not knowing much about farming
  • The Israelites will have all the food they want
  • They will live in their land in safety
  • There will be peace in the land. Verse 6 says “and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid,” which I think is a nicely poetic phrase.
  • God will remove “savage beasts” from the land (verse 6)
  • The sword will not pass through their country
  • When the Israelites pursue their enemies, the enemies will fall by the sword before them
    • Verse 8 says “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.”
  • The LORD will be favourable toward the Israelites
  • They will be fruitful, and increase their numbers
  • He will keep His covenant with them
  • It is mentioned, above, that they would always have plentiful food to eat; this gets repeated in verse 10: “You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.”
  • The last piece I’ll put here verbatim:

    I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high. (verses 11–13)
When it says that “the sword will not pass through your country,” I don’t think this means that the Israelites will not go to war with anyone—especially since the next few promises deal with what will happen when they do go to war. So I interpret this to mean that even when they go to war, it will be war fought in other countries, not on their own soil.

Also, in the last bullet point above, God promises not to “abhor” His people. This is not just fanciful language; it’s quite literal. If there is one thing we should have come to understand, from reading the book of Leviticus up to this point, it’s that God demands holiness from His people, and His people are constantly going to be coming back to Him, trying to make atonement, when they don’t live up to His high standards. Really, there is no reason, aside from His grace, why He should have put up with the Israelites in their sin, nor why He should put up with modern-day Christians, in ours. It’s only because of the death of Christ, on our behalf, that He puts up with any human—B.C. or A.D.

So those are the promises for the Israelites, if they obey their God. You can’t help but imagine the nation of Israel becoming a paradise on Earth, if they followed all of God’s commands properly. There would always be food to eat, they would never lose battles to their enemies, etc.

Next, God outlines what will happen to the Israelites if they don’t follow Him properly. But this section is put forth a bit differently; above, God outlined all of the things that He would do for the nation of Israel, if they followed His commands, whereas in this next section, He outlines the punishments for disobedience, but He does so in phases. “If you disobey Me, I’ll do this; if you still disobey Me, I’ll do this next thing; if you still continue to disobey Me, I’ll do that…”

I’m going to break with tradition, a bit, for this section, and not write it out point-by-point in the blog. I’m doing so because I want you to read it yourself, from verses 14–39. I’m doing this partially because I want you to get the full impact of God’s words—instead of my watered down version—but also because I want you to be able to read the poetry in this section. Above, I pointed out the phrase “you will lie down and no one will make you afraid,” which I think is very poetic. This section, in which God outlines His punishments for the Israelites, is full of such poetry. Things like

…I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. (verse 16b)

and

I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. (verse 19)

So if you haven’t already, go off, now, and read verses 14–39.

But the chapter doesn’t end there. God doesn’t just warn the Israelites what will happen to them, if they don’t obey Him, and then let them worry about the future; He also gives them hope, even at the end of this section:

But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the LORD their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the LORD. (verses 40–45)

I realize I keep going on about the poetry in this section, but I love the poetry in this passage, too.

Thoughts

There is another, longer, passage, in Deuteronomy, where God does the same thing: outlines rewards for obedience, and punishments for disobedience. We’ll get to that much later.

It probably won’t come as a shock to you when I say that the Israelites didn’t obey God properly, and that the punishments outlined here did in fact happen to them. The nation of Israel was eventually split into two countries—Israel and Judah—and they were eventually conquered by other nations, and taken from their homeland. (Of course, as promised by God, they eventually came back to their land, too.)

As mentioned earlier, it’s very natural, when reading this chapter, to think to yourself “Why didn’t the Israelites just obey God, so they could live in paradise? Why did they have to be so stubborn, in disobeying Him?!?” There are a couple of answers to this, that I would put forth.

First, if you’re a Christian—or even if you’re not, I guess—you could very easily direct the same question at yourself. You know what God demands of you, and you know that you don’t live up to His requirements. Why do you lie? Or steal? Or download pornography from the internet? Or do the myriad other things you do, that are in contradiction to His commands? (I know we’re all tempted by different things; maybe you do some of the things I just said; maybe you do all of them; maybe you don’t do any of them, but there are other sins that tempt you. The point is, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.) It’s easy to condemn the Israelites for using dishonest scales, while at the same time cheating on our income taxes…

But that brings me to the second point: God knows our weaknesses. He knew that the Israelites were going to let Him down, and that the punishments outlined were going to happen. So why did He bother with this chapter at all? Why bother to outline for the Israelites what would happen if they obeyed, and what would happen if they didn’t, when He knew that they wouldn’t? I think the answer, at least in part, goes back to God’s nature. When we read the Old Testament, when we read these promises from God to His people, we get a sense of the importance of holiness. We get a sense that obeying God—which, really, is trying to be like God—is something that He takes seriously. We also, however, get a sense of his longsuffering, and patience. God could have told the Israelites “if you sin, I’ll cut you off, and that will be that.” But He didn’t. He even gave them multiple chances; “if you sin, I’ll punish you, and if you continue to sin I’ll punish you more, and if you continue to continue, I’ll punish you even further.” You get the sense, when reading this chapter, that the punishments are always designed to teach the Israelites a lesson, to bring them back closer to God.

And, most importantly, this chapter illustrates that, all else aside, God kept His covenant with the Israelites not because of their obedience, but because of His promise. It’s true, for the specifics, there is a contract involved: If they obeyed, He would do X, Y, and Z, but if they disobeyed, He would do A, B, and C. But the main promise—He would be their God, and they would be His people—He intended to keep, no matter what. That part of the promise wasn’t part of a contract, it was simply a promise, and God always keeps His word. So even if—or rather, when—the Israelites disobeyed, to the point that they would have to be punished, they would still remain God’s people. Because that part wasn’t up to them, it was up to Him.

God has also promised that my relationship with Him will never end. I may sin, and put a rift between us; I may hurt Him by disobeying His commands, nor not striving to be like Him, but regardless of what I do, I’m one of His chosen ones, and that will not, cannot, change, because it’s in His power, not mine.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Leviticus 25

Leviticus 25: The Sabbath Year, and the Year of Jubilee

Synopsis

If you’re not familiar with the terms “Sabbath Year” and “Year of Jubilee,” read on, and be prepared to be surprised. When I first read the book of Leviticus, these rules really surprised me.

  • The Sabbath Year
    • When the Israelites reached the Promised Land, every seventh year was to be a “year of rest” for the land. That is, for six years they would cultivate and tend the land as usual, growing and reaping their crops, but on the seventh year, they were not to sow their fields, or prune their vineyards.
    • At first, I was confused about two seemingly contradictory commands:

      Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten. (verses 5–7)

      First it says “[d]o not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines,” but then it says that they would be allowed to eat whatever grew on its own. The confusion came from the words “reap” and “harvest”—those words have to do with proper farming, and the extraction of the food from the fields. They were allowed to eat food from the fields, meaning that they could go in and take what was needed, but they weren’t allowed to go in and clean it out.
There are a few things that occur to me, when reading the rules about the Sabbath Year. First, this would be another way of reminding the Israelites that they were dependent on God, for their food. They may have known how to grow and reap crops, but all of their skill, know-how, and technology, meant nothing aside from God’s will. If He didn’t want them to have food, the ground would not yield, and if He did, it would. (The better that we, as humans, get at any particular activity, farming included, the less we tend to rely on God, and the more we tend to rely on ourselves. We love self-reliance, in 21st Century North America, but it is sinful in God’s eyes.)

Second, this would also be good for the land itself. Any food which grew from the land on its own, and wasn’t eaten by the Israelites, would end up back in the ground, nourishing it for future years. I don’t know much about farming, but I know that there is a school of farming in which this is practised; a farmer may have four fields, and only ever tend three of them. Every year, the farmer would rotate.

Third, I don’t believe there is a record, in the Old Testament, of the Israelites ever celebrating the Sabbath Year. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t happen, but I’m thinking that it probably didn’t.

  • The Year of Jubilee
    • Every seventh Sabbath Year—that is, every 49 years—was to be the Year of Jubilee. This was a special Sabbath Year, in which all property belonging to the Israelites was to return to its original owners.
      • That sentence might need some explaining: When the Israelites make it to the Promised Land, in a future book, God is going to divide up the land between the twelve tribes of Israel. The land was to be the property of that tribe, from that point forward, for all future generations. If someone ever sold his land, to someone from another tribe, in the Year of Jubilee, it was to be returned to the tribe it originally belonged to.
    • What this means, in reality, is that no Israelite ever sold his land; he was only really selling the number of crops, that a buyer could reap, before the Year of Jubilee, when the land would be returned to its original owner.

      If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God. (verses 14–17)
Again, this command absolutely floors me. But, again, there is no record of the Year of Jubilee ever actually being observed by the Israelites.

Before continuing on, God stops to explain His reasoning for the Sabbath Year, and the Year of Jubilee:

Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.

The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.

(verses 18–24)


The rest of the chapter has some additional rules, about the redemption of property, and Israelites who fell into hard times, and couldn’t support themselves.

  • If an Israelite became poor, and had to sell some of his property, his nearest relative was to “redeem” the property for him—that is, buy it back, for him.
    • If the person had nobody to redeem it for him, but managed to acquire enough money himself, he was to buy it back from the person to whom he sold it—again, based on the number of years left until the Year of Jubilee.
    • And, of course, if there was no close relative to redeem the land, and the man never acquired enough money to redeem it himself, it was still be returned at the Year of Jubilee.
  • Houses within walled cities were treated differently than other land; they were not to be returned, at the Year of Jubilee.
    • If an Israelite sold such a house, within a walled city, he was to retain the right to redeem it for a year; after that, the house was to belong permanently to the buyer.
  • Levites’ land was also treated differently:
    • If a Levite sold a house within a walled city, he was to retain the right to redeem it right up until the Year of Jubilee.
    • If the Year of Jubilee came, and the house hadn’t been redeemed, it was to be returned to the Levite who had sold it—in this case, the Year of Jubilee was to apply to houses in walled cities.
    • Land belonging to Levites outside of walled cities was never to be sold, period. It was to be their “permanent possession” (verse 34).
I’m not sure why houses within walled cities were treated differently from other land, in respect to the Year of Jubilee. I realize that land that produced crops was different, I’m just not sure why houses within cities weren’t returned.

  • If an Israelite became poor, and was unable to support himself, the other Israelites were to help him.
    • If anyone lent him anything, they were not to charge him interest, or sell him food at a profit.
  • If such a person sold himself to a fellow Israelite, he was not to be treated as a slave, but as a hired worker.
    • Also, at the Year of Jubilee, the person was to go free. At which time he would be able to return to the property which was formerly his, since it would also be returned at the Year of Jubilee. Verses 42–43 give some reasoning for this:

      Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.
  • Although they were not to take fellow Israelites as slaves, they were allowed to take slaves from people in other nations. They were allowed to treat such slaves as property—even with the ability to will the slaves to their children.
  • If a non-Israelite—a “temporary resident” or an “alien” (verse 47)—bought a poor Israelite as a slave, that Israelite was to retain the right of redemption. He could be redeemed by a relative, or, if he prospered, redeem himself.
    • As with other property, the price of his redemption was to be calculated based on the amount of time left until the Year of Jubilee.
    • Even though the poor Israelite was owned by a non-Israelite, the Israelites were to make sure that his owner did not “rule over him ruthlessly” (verse 53).
    • If the man was not redeemed, he was still to go free at the Year of Jubilee, “…for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (verse 55).
Technically, these rules make sense to me, although I still get uncomfortable reading about slavery in the Old Testament.

Thoughts

It was weird to write about all of the laws and regulations concerning the Year of Jubilee, since I’m pretty sure that one never happened. It would really suck if an Israelite ever sold his land, calculating the price for the sale based on an upcoming Year of Jubilee, only to have the Year of Jubilee never happen—he wouldn’t get his land back, and he would have sold for less than what the land was really worth.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Leviticus 24

Leviticus 24: bread for the LORD, stoning commanded for blasphemy

Synopsis

This chapter outlines some more rules for the Israelites, but also has a “live action” sequence: someone blasphemes “the Name” (verse 11), and the LORD outlines the rules for blasphemy, before they are carried out on the guilty party.

But first…

The LORD tells Moses to have the Israelites bring olive oil, for the lamps in the Tabernacle (which are to be burning continually). Aaron—or future High Priests—is to tend to the lamps in the Holy Place continually.

Twelve loaves of bread are then to be baked—verse 5 indicates that 4.5 litres of flour are to be used for each loaf—and set on the gold table in the Holy Place. They are to be placed in two rows, six loaves per row. Along each row, they are also to put some incense, as an offering to the LORD. This ceremony is to be carried out every week, on the Sabbath. The bread will then belong to Aaron and his sons, and they are to eat it in a holy place.

After these rules are given, the blasphemy occurs: a man with an Israelite mother and Egyptian father gets into a fight, and, during the fight, he blasphemes “the Name”—meaning the LORD’s name—with a curse (verse 11). The Israelites don’t know what to do about it, so they put the man in custody, and seek Moses, to inquire about the LORD’s will in this matter.

The LORD commands that the man must be taken outside of the camp, and stoned. And then He outlines some general rules:

  • Anyone who curses God will be “held responsible” (verse 15)
  • Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD is to be put to death; I’m not sure if this is a separate rule, or simply a continuation of the first point above. (It’s part of the same sentence, if that helps.) It depends on whether cursing God is the same as blasphemy, I guess.
  • Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death.
    • I believe this is referring just to murder, or premeditated killing—we know that it doesn’t apply to accidentally killing someone, because there are separate rules for that, given elsewhere.
  • Anyone who takes the life of someone else’s animal is to make restitution—“life for life” (verse 18).
    • The above two rules are reiterated again, in verse 21:

      Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death.
  • If anyone injures his neighbour, the same injury is to be applied to him; “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (verse 20).
  • These laws are to apply both to the alien and the “native born” Israelites.
After God has handed down these rules—some of which are reiterations of previously given rules—the Israelites take the guilty man outside of the camp, and stone him.

Thoughts

Because the LORD hadn’t yet given the Israelites specific rules regarding blasphemy, they didn’t know what to do with this man; they knew that he was guilty, but not how to punish him.

But I find it interesting that the LORD doesn’t just give them rules about blasphemy, and let the matter drop; He also takes the opportunity to remind them about the rules for murder, and to remind them that killing an animal is a different matter from killing a person. And I think He is doing that for a specific reason; He is teaching them that blaspheming His name is, as crimes go, on par with taking another human’s life.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Leviticus 23

Leviticus 23: Special Days

Synopsis

This chapter outlines some of the special days the Israelites were to observe; the Sabbath, and various feasts and festivals.

  • The Sabbath
    • The Israelites were to work six days, and rest on the seventh. They were not to do any work on that seventh day, because it was a “Sabbath to the LORD” (verse 3).
See my Sabbath post, for thoughts on the Sabbath. (Not that I have anything that deep or insightful to say.) Other than that—whether or how the Sabbath applies to Christians—the rule is pretty straightforward. Work six days of the week, and don’t work the seventh; what could be easier?

Except that God will be rebuking the Israelites for the rest of the Old Testament about not keeping the Sabbath sacred, so I guess it’s not as easy as you’d think…

  • The Passover
    • The Passover was to begin at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month of the Israelites’ calendar, and last for seven days.
    • On the fifteenth day—the first full day of the celebration—they were to begin the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days, they were not to eat any bread with yeast in it.
    • Also on the fifteenth, they were to hold a sacred assembly and take a day of rest.
    • Verse 8 says that they were to “present an offering made to the LORD,” but they were to do it “[f]or seven days,” so I don’t know if that means seven sacrifices, one per day. Probably does, I guess.
There’s not much to say about this one. This is obviously commemorating the tenth plague in Egypt, when the LORD passed over the Israelites, and took the firstborn male from every Egyptian household. It’s not insignificant that the “last supper” Jesus had with his disciples was Passover, since Passover is really a form of prophecy, of what Jesus would do once and for all.

  • Firstfruits
    • When the Israelites reached the new land, that God was giving them, and they had reaped its harvest, they were to bring a sheaf of their first grain harvest to the priest. On the day after the Sabbath, the priest was to wave these sheaves before the LORD, as a wave offering.
    • The same day that the sheaves were waved, the Israelites were to sacrifice a burnt offering: a year-old lamb, without defect; a grain offering, of 4.5 litres of fine flour mixed with oil; and a drink offering, of a litre of wine.
    • They [the Israelites] were not to eat any bread, or any other grain, until they had done so.
    • This was to be “a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever [they lived]” (verse 14).
The only part I’m not quite sure about, in this one, is how often this was to be done. The beginning of the passage says it was to be done when they entered the Promised Land, while the last part says that it was to be a “lasting ordinance.” I think this means that they were to do it every year—when they had a new gran harvest to reap—and that the first time it would happen would be when they entered the Promised Land.

  • Feast of Weeks
    • After the celebration of Firstfruits, the Israelites were to count off seven weeks, and then celebrate the Feast of Weeks.
      • It actually gives two ways to count it; “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath…” (verses 15–16). I think these are two different ways to measure the same passage of time.
    • At this time, they were to bring an offering of new grain: two loaves of bread—made with specifically 4.5 litres of fine flour—baked with yeast, as a wave offering; seven lambs, without defect; one bull; and two rams.
    • In addition to this, they were to sacrifice a male goat, for a sin offering, and to year-old lambs, for a fellowship offering. The priest was to wave the two lambs before the LORD as a wave offering, along with the bread of the firstfruits. The lambs and the bread were to belong to the priests—they weren’t to be offered on the altar, this time.
    • They were to proclaim a sacred assembly that day, and do no work.
I find it interesting that they are to actually bake the bread with yeast, this time. Of course, since they’re not offering it on the altar, it doesn’t break the previous rules, that no bread presented on the altar was to have yeast in it.

I’m also not sure, for the seven lambs, bull, and two rams, whether this was to be one big communal sacrifice, for the whole community, or if every household was to offer all of these. I tend to think it is the former, simply because of the sheer size of the offering, but that’s my only evidence.

  • There is an interruption, at this point in the chapter, for God to reiterate the rule that they were not to reap to the very edges of their fields, or gather the gleanings of the harvest—they were to be left for the poor and the alien.
Although this isn’t a rule for a feast or an offering, it fits in well with the rest of this chapter, I think. All of the feasts and celebrations mentioned so far would serve to remind the Israelites that they depended on God for everything they had; remembering that everything you have comes from the LORD seems to go hand in hand with remembering to give to the poor and less fortunate, in the Bible.

  • Feast of Trumpets
    • On the first day of the seventh month, the Israelites were to have a day of rest, and hold a sacred assembly—“commemorated with trumpet blasts” (verse 24).
    • Since this was to be a day of rest, they were do to no regular work, but they were to present an offering to the LORD by fire.
In this case, it doesn’t mention what the Israelites were to offer to the LORD by fire. I think that means that it was a “fellowship offering,” and, if memory serves, the rules about fellowship offerings were less stringent. (In other words, I think the Israelites would offer to the LORD whatever they were moved to offer to Him.) Either that, or the offering(s) to present at the Feast of Trumpets will be described in a future chapter. (I looked back, and didn’t see a mention of it in previous blog entries.)

  • The Day of Atonement
    • On the tenth day of the seventh month—verse 32 says, specifically, “the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening”—the Israelites were to observe the Day of Atonement.
    • They were to do no work, on this day, and were to “deny” themselves (verse 27; the footnote indicates that “deny yourselves” could also be translated “fast”).
      • Anyone who did not “deny himself”—or fast—was to be cut off from his people.
      • Anyone who did any work would be destroyed from among his people, by the LORD.
    • They were also to present an offering to the LORD by fire (as described in Leviticus 16).
This is another one of those interesting cases where one sin demands punishment by the people (if a person didn’t fast on the Day of Atonement), whereas another sin would be punished directly by the LORD (if a person did work on the Day of Atonement).

  • Feast of Tabernacles
    • Starting on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and lasting for seven days, was the Feast of Tabernacles.
    • On the first day, they were to have a sacred assembly, and do no work.
    • For the next seven days, they were to present offerings to the LORD by fire—again, it doesn’t specify what offerings to make.
    • On the eighth day they were to hold another sacred assembly—and, of course, do no regular work—and present another offering to the LORD by fire.
    • This festival took place after the crops of the land had been gathered, and was intended to celebrate this event.
    • On the first day of the celebration, they were also to “take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD [their] God for seven days” (verse 40), although it’s not specified what they were to do with these items.
    • During these seven days, the Israelites were to live in booths so that their descendants would know that God had had the Israelites live in booths when He brought them out of Egypt.
That last point is why this was called the “Feast of Tabernacles;” the word “tabernacle,” in addition to referring to the Tabernacle, can also simply mean a tent, or temporary dwelling. (In fact, this is why the Tabernacle was called a “tabernacle”—it was intended to be a temporary place of worship, for the Israelites, until they could get to the Promised Land, and build a permanent temple.)

Thoughts

I have a couple of thoughts, about these feasts and celebrations and observances. First is that they all mandate “days of rest” or “sabbaths.” This means that God puts a lot of value on the Israelites stopping from their work, so that they can not just celebrate these things, but actually take time to think about them. He didn’t just mandate a feast to celebrate, say, the Passover, so that the Israelites could come in after a hard day’s work, and have a slightly different dinner than usual; instead, He prescribed an entire week of observance, including days when they were forbidden from working. Stopping yourself from working is a great way to be able to focus your mind on what the observance is all about.

I noticed that all of the feasts/special occasions listed above also included “sacred assemblies,” but I’m not sure what was involved in one of these assemblies. Did all of the Israelites gather at a central place? Well, I’m assuming that that would probably be the core of it… But what else—if anything—was involved? Unless a subsequent chapter answers that, I won’t know.