Friday, June 29, 2007

Numbers 32

Numbers 32: The “Transjordan” Tribes

Synopsis

By the time we get to Numbers 32, the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land—what will become Israel. They are on the East side of the Jordan river, and, as far as most of the Israelites are concerned, the land that will be theirs is all of the land on the West side of the Jordan. (At any point, if you get confused while you’re reading this, I’ve included a map, below.)

But, before they’ve crossed the Jordan, the Reubenites and the Gadites take a look around, at the lands on the East side—the lands that were formerly populated by the nations of Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon—and realize that these lands would be very good for flocks and herds. Since they have a lot of flocks and herds, they go to Moses and ask him for permission to take these lands, instead of crossing over the Jordan. Their exact words, in verse 5: “‘If we have found favor in your eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’” However, this makes Moses angry:

Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, “Shall your countrymen go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from going over into the land the LORD has given them? This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. After they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the LORD had given them. The LORD’s anger was aroused that day and he swore this oath: ‘Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of the men twenty years old or more who came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the LORD wholeheartedly.’ The LORD’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the desert forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.

“And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the LORD even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the desert, and you will be the cause of their destruction.”

(verses 6–15)


So they come back to Moses, and tell him that they are prepared to go with Israel into the Promised Land, to bring the other Israelites to their place. They will leave their women and children in fortified cities, and then go with Israel into the Promised Land, and not return home until all of the Israelites have received their inheritance.

Moses agrees to this. As long as they live up to their word, and go with the rest of Israel into the Promised Land, and don’t return back to this land until the LORD has driven all of His enemies out of the land, then they may have this land as their inheritance.

The Gadites and Reubenites agree to this, and then Moses orders Eleazar the priest that this is what is to happen. (Since Moses won’t be crossing into the Promised Land with the Israelites, he can’t carry this out, so Eleazar—and Joshua, I guess—will be the ones responsible for seeing that the promise is kept. And, again, the Gadites and Reubenites agree to this. So Moses gives the land to them. Actually, he gives the land to the Gadites, the Reubenites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. (Again, see the map below, for reference.)

The end of the chapter, verses 34–42, recount the nations that they had to subdue, and the lands they overtook, to take over the land East of the Jordan.

Although the Israelites have not yet fully entered the Promised Land, as of this chapter, the map below shows how the division of the land is going to end up. It might help you to picture what is happening.

(click for a larger version)

The lands labeled Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben, on the East side of the Jordan river, are the ones we’re talking about in this chapter.

Incidentally, to give credit whre it is due, this map is part of a map I got from, of all places, the Official Scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I found lots of other Bible maps, too, but for some reason, the one that suited my needs best came from a Mormon website!

Thoughts

When I read this passage, I’m really not sure if this was a misunderstanding, or if Moses talked the Gadites and Reubenites into entering the Promised Land with the rest of the Israelites. I can read it either way; they always intended to help the rest of the tribes get their land, they just wanted to take over this land, first; or they had never intended to go with the rest of Israel, and because of Moses’ speech, they were shamed into helping their brothers.

Because there is so much back and forth happening, with them agreeing over and over again to help their brothers get their land, I’m now leaning toward assuming that Moses talked them into it. I’m guessing that the way they phrased it, or their attitude, or something they said which wasn’t recorded here, indicated to Moses that he had to take a hard stance with them.

Until now I’ve always read this chapter as being a misunderstanding, but as I was typing out this blog entry, it occurred to me that Moses was actually there, having the conversation with them, whereas all I have is what’s written here in the text, so if he felt he had to be so firm with them, there was probably a good reason for it.

Bible Maps

I was about to start blogging about Numbers 32—which I will do next—but I figured that I really needed to find a good map, first, to illustrate what was happening. So, as I tend to do, I went to Google, to look for some.

The first search result I came across was to a site called BibleMap.org. Although it’s not useful for my current purpose, it’s very cool: It has a search box, where you put in the Bible verse you want to look up—ESV or KJV—and then it searches in the text you’ve chosen for any names of places; cities, countries, whatever. It then superimposes those places onto a satellite map of that area, using Google Maps! See the screenshot for an example:


Now, I don’t really know how useful this will be; as you’ve noticed, in the view below, since it’s using Google Maps, it’s using the names of modern-day countries and cities (with the Old Testament references superimposed on top). However, if you were reading, for example, Numbers 21, and wanted to see where the lands it’s talking about are, in relation to today’s world, you could easily do that.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Numbers 31

Numbers 31: Revenge Against the Midianites

Synopsis

Earlier in Numbers we read that the LORD had appointed Joshua to succeed Moses, as the Israelites’ leader. Moses gave Joshua some of his authority, and was allowed to see the Promised Land, even though he wasn’t going to be allowed to enter it.

But Moses has another task to perform, before he will be gathered to his people:

The LORD said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.” (verses 1–2)

This is relating back to Numbers 25, when the Israelites let themselves be seduced by the Midianites—literally, because the “seduction” took the form of sexual immorality and worship of the Midianites’ god(s). (Those two things are related; the sexual immorality was part of the idol worship.)

So Moses sends out 12,000 troops, to fight the Midianites, 1,000 from each tribe of Israel. He also sends with them Phinehas, Eleazar’s son, who takes with him some articles from the sanctuary and some trumpets, for signaling.

The Israelites soundly defeat the Midianites, killing every man, and taking the women, children, and plunder for themselves. They also kill the five kings of Midian—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—and Balaam. Balak, the king of Moab, is not mentioned, although there seemed to be some kind of relationship between him and the Midianites, in Numbers 22. They bring all of the spoils of war back to Moses, Eleazar, and the rest of the community, but Moses is angry with them:

“Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (verses 15–18)

He then instructs anyone who killed anyone, or who touched a dead body, to stay outside the camp for seven days, for their cleansing. They are to follow all of the rules for a person who had touched a dead body. Eleazar also instructs them that any articles they have that can be passed through the fire must be passed through, and then cleansed with the water of cleansing. Anything that can’t be passed through fire must be cleansed with the water of cleansing.

Moses now instructs the people to divide the spoils between the soldiers, who took part in the battle, and the rest of the Israelites. Then they are to take the Levites’ share, as follows: From the spoils allocated to the soldiers, the Levites would get 1 out of every 500 “items”—i.e. 1 out of every 500 sheep, 1 out of every 500 girls, etc.; from the spoils allocated to the rest of the Israelites, the Levites would get 1 out of every 50 items. They go ahead and divide everything as instructed.

The officers of the army then come back to Moses and report to him that not a single member of the Israelite army is missing. In other words, they wiped out the entire Midianite nation, without a single casualty. So, to thank the LORD for this, they present an additional offering: all of the gold articles that they acquired. (Verse 52 reports that the offering consisted of 190 kilograms of gold.)

Thoughts

I don’t know how common this was, in that day and age, but I note that the Israelite soldiers took a priest with them into battle, and then, when they came back, they purified themselves. The rules that applied to a person who had touched a dead body applied equally to soldiers, who killed in battle.

I was also interested in the fact that the soldiers got to keep a specific share of the spoils for themselves, and that the portion removed from their share for the Levites was smaller than the portion removed from the share allocated to the rest of the Israelites.

But probably the part of the chapter that I’m most focused on is the destroying of an entire nation, but the LORD allowing the Israelites to keep any virgin girl/woman as “spoils of war.” I actually do understand why the Israelites were commanded to wipe out the Midianites; this was the LORD’s judgement on them, for their sin. But why allow the girls to live? What’s especially jarring to me is the fact that, in this chapter, the girls are quite explicitly being captured as the Israelites’ property. I realize this was basically the position of women altogether—even chapter 30 made that quite clear, when talking about vows—but this idea of treating the Midianite girls in the same manner as they treated the gold taken from them as plunder seems pretty jarring, to me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Numbers 30

Numbers 30: Rules for Vows

Synopsis

This chapter covers rules for Israelites who took vows to the LORD, or otherwise obligated themselves with some type of pledge.

  • Verses 1–2 give the “level setting” rule: If a man made a vow to the LORD, or some other oath or pledge, he had to do everything he had vowed to do.
  • Rules for young women—that is, women who still lived at home—were different: If such a young woman were to make a vow, her father would have the ability to nullify it, if he wished. If he heard about the vow, and forbid it, it would become null and void, and the young woman would no longer be bound by it. The LORD would “release her” from her promise (verse 5).
    • If the father didn’t say anything, when he heard about the vow, then that would count as implicit agreement.
  • If a young woman made a vow, and then got married, her husband would then have the opportunity to nullify it, similar to the way her father could have. Just like with fathers, if the husband heard about the vow but didn’t say anything, that would count as implicit agreement.
    • The same rules would apply if a married woman made a vow; her husband would have the ability to nullify the vow, when he heard about it. And if he didn’t say anything, it would count as implicit agreement.
    • If a husband heard about a vow, and didn’t say anything about it at the time, but then later on nullified it, then he would become responsible for the vow, instead of her.
  • Any vow taken by a widow, or a divorced woman, would be binding on her.

Thoughts

You’ll have noticed that many of the rules in this chapter pertain specifically to women, whether they still lived at home, or were married, or were divorced/widowed. This is probably stating the obvious, but the reason has to do with the power structure of the Israelite society, when it came to gender. That is, the men had power, and the women didn’t. As with so many of the laws in the Old Testament, it’s disconcerting to read these rules, from the point of view of a 21st Century North American.

For some rules, in the Old Testament, you can read them and put yourself in the women’s position, and say to yourself, “well, in that scenario, where the woman had no power, this rule would actually protect them from abuse.” In this particular case, though, I’m not sure if it’s the women who are being protected, or the fathers/husbands who are being protected.

In other words, I don’t really understand the rules in this chapter. I mean, on the surface, there’s nothing too dififcult to comprehend, but the intent behind the rules eludes me.

“Satan has asked to sift y’all…”

The new ESV Bible that I got on the weekend is already helping me, in that it made a particular passage a bit more clear. It’s Luke 22:31–32, which reads like this in the NIV:

31“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

There is also a footnote for verse 31, that indicates that the first “you” is plural, in the Greek. There is no plural word for “you” in English—unless you count “y’all”—so that’s why the verse reads “you” in English. (I do actually use the word “y’all,” sometimes, even though it’s not a term that we tend to use here in Ontario.)

It reads like this in the ESV:

31“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 31but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

For the most part, the wording for both of these is similar. However, there is a footnote in the ESV version for verse 31 that I found more clear than the NIV’s footnote:

The Greek word for you (twice in this verse) is plural; in verse 32, all four instances are singular

(This is why I included the verse numbers in the quotes, above, which I don’t normally bother to do.)

In other words, if I were to paraphrase, Jesus is saying this:

Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you, as wheat, but I’ve prayed for you, Simon, that your [Simon’s] faith may not fail. And when you, Simon, have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

I never picked up on this before, even with the NIV footnote that indicates the first “you” is singular. I had always read this as completely singular, that Satan had asked to sift Simon, but what Jesus is actually saying is that Satan had asked to sift all of the disciples.

For me, this gives a whole new understanding to this verse. When Jesus was crucified, he knew that the disciples were going to be struck a heavy blow, but he was specifically commissioning Simon (who we usually call Peter) to strengthen them. He knew that Peter was going to deny him, but still, he was the one tasked with strengthening the other apostles.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Numbers 29

Numbers 29: Rules for Special Days

Synopsis

This chapter continues with some rules for special days: The Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.

  • Feast of Trumpets
    • On the first day of the seventh month, the Israelites were to have a sacred assembly, and do no regular work. They were to sound their trumpets, hence the name “Feast of Trumpets.” (The name “Feast of Trumpets” doesn’t actually appear in the text, but that’s what both the NIV and the ESV are calling it, in their headings.)
    • In addition to the regular daily/monthly offerings, they were to offer the following:
      • A burnt offering, consisting of: one young bull, one ram, and seven male year-old lambs, all without defect.
      • Grain offerings: 6.5 litres of fine flour mixed with oil for the bull; 4.5 litres for the ram; and 2 litres for each lamb.
      • They were also to offer one male goat, as a sin offering.
  • Day of Atonement
    • On the tenth day of the seventh month, the Israelites were to “deny themselves” (the footnote for verse 7 says that this could also be translated that they had to “fast”), and do no work.
    • In addition to the regular daily/monthly offerings, they were to offer the following:
      • A burnt offering, consisting of: one young bull, one ram, and seven male year-old lambs, all without defect.
      • Grain offerings: 6.5 litres of fine flour mixed with oil for the bull; 4.5 litres for the ram; and 2 litres for each lamb.
      • They were also to offer one male goat, as a sin offering.
  • Feast of Tabernacles
    • On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, they were to hold another sacred assembly, and do no regular work. This was to kick off a festival, which they were to celebrate for seven days.
    • On each day of the festival, they were to present a series of offerings, of bulls, rams, and lambs. (And they were to provide the appropriate grain and drink offerings, for each animal; the amounts of flour to use are the same as in the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Trumpets, above; you’ll have to look back at Numbers 28, to get the appropriate drink offerings that were to be used.) Here were the sacrifices they were to make:
      • Day 1: 13 young bulls, 2 rams, and 14 male lambs
      • Day 2: 12 young bulls, 2 rams, and 14 male lambs
      • Day 3: 11 young bulls, 2 rams, and 14 male lambs
      • Day 4: 10 young bulls, 2 rams, and 14 male lambs
      • Day 5: 9 young bulls, 2 rams, and 14 male lambs
      • Day 6: 8 young bulls, 2 rams, and 14 male lambs
      • Day 7: 7 young bulls, 2 rams, and 14 male lambs
      • Day 8: 1 young bull, 1 ram, and 7 male lambs

      In addition, they were to have another assembly on the eighth day, doing no regular work.

Thoughts

I believe all of these rules have been given in earlier chapters. In fact, in the earlier accounts, the reason for the name of the “Feast of Tabernacles” is given: during this time, the Israelites were to live in tents (or “booths,” or “tabernacles,” depending on how you want to translate it.)

I find the progression of sacrifices given, for the Feast of Tabernacles, to be very interesting. Every day they offer the same number of rams and lambs, while the number of bulls decreases—until the last day, when the number of rams and lambs decreases as well!



Out of curiosity, I read a bit of Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary—I don’t know how well that link will work, but it should—since there was a link to it in Bible Gateway.

There were more sacred solemnities in the seventh month than in any other. It was the space between harvest and seed-time. The more leisure we have from the pressing occupations of this life, the more time we should spend in the immediate service of God.

Since I’m on a roll, he also had something to say specifically about the Feast of Tabernacles:

Soon after the day of atonement, the day in which men were to afflict their souls, followed the feast of Tabernacles, in which they were to rejoice before the Lord. Their days of rejoicing were to be days of sacrifices. A disposition to be cheerful does us good, when it encourages our hearts in the duties of God’s service. All the days of dwelling in booths they must offer sacrifices; while we are here in a tabernacle state, it is our interest, as well as our duty, constantly to keep up communion with God. The sacrifices for each of the seven days are appointed. Every day there must be a sin-offering, as in the other feasts. Our burnt-offerings of praise cannot be accepted of God, unless we have an interest in the great sacrifice which Christ offered, when he made himself a Sin-offering for us. And no extraordinary services should put aside stated devotions. Every thing here reminds us of our sinfulness. The life that we live in the flesh must be by the faith of the Son of God; until we go to be with him, to behold his glory, and praise his mercy, who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood. To whom be honour and glory for ever. Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bibles

I decided, this past weekend, to go looking for a new Bible. My Bible, since I was 17 or so, has always been a New Student Bible, which I [mostly] like, but I felt it was time for a new one. Mostly because I’ve already read all of the notes in the Student Bible, so they aren’t as helpful anymore—I no longer need to read them, because I know what they say.

The translation used by the Student Bible is the New International Version (NIV), which I like. I find it very readable, and, from what I’ve heard, it’s also a very accurate translation. But I’d been hearing about the English Standard Version (ESV); I forget where I heard about it first, but I know that my pastor switched to that version, for his own use, and I’d also heard about it on the Withering Fig blog. (I first came across the Withering Fig blog because of an article he wrote on 5 Keys to Picking the Best Bible Translation for You, which I liked.)

Just to clarify, I asked my pastor about it again on Friday, as to his reasons for switching to the ESV. To sum up the conversation, this is what I remember:

  • The NIV is a very accurate translation, in that it captures what the original authors were trying to say, but it also can fall into more colloquial language, which doesn’t always translate well for every audience. If you’re reading for your own personal learning, and you use the same types of idioms that are used in the NIV, then you’ll probably find it very readable.
  • The ESV is also very accurate, but because of the issue mentioned above with the NIV, the ESV is better to preach from. If you’re trying to make the intent of a passage clear to a wider audience, than the ESV is probably better for you. Of course, that’s not to say that it’s not readable; the guy from Withering Fig seems to use the ESV as his translation of choice, and apparently likes the way it reads.
  • If you want the most accurate translation, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is probably the best, although it will not be as readable. For example, Andrea mentioned to me that the NASB always makes it clear when the Bible is using a word that means “men” (multiple male persons) versus “people” (multiple persons of any gender), which can be very helpful, in some situations, whereas other translations might use the word “men” in both places. (Some translations will have a footnote, in some cases, to clarify whether the word is gender neutral or gender specific, although I have to admit that I don’t always read the footnotes, when I’m reading the Bible.)
So I decided to give the ESV a try. From what I can tell, there aren’t yet any “study Bibles” that use the ESV translation, so I just went ahead and got a regular Bible.

As a side note, I was shocked how expensive Bibles are! I got mine for $7.50, which is a “bare bones” soft-cover Bible, with no bells and whistles, but the average price of the Bibles I saw was $40–50. I also saw some that were $80–90, which is just absolutely ridiculous. Aside from price, it also blows me away, when looking through Christian bookstores, to see all of the gimmicks on display from “Christian” publishers. Anything from commonplace gimmicks, like a leather-bound Bible with an imprint of a crown of thorns on it—Christians will buy almost anything that has a crown of thorns or cross logo on it—to over the top gimmicks like the “Duct Table Bible,” which, literally, has duct tape over the cover, to just plain morally terrible gimmicks, like Bibles that are made to look like teen magazines, full of pictures of “pretty” white Christians, embodying all of the same stereotypes of beauty that Christians aren’t supposed to care about. (Let your beauty come from within? No? Anybody?)

Anyway, ranting aside, I’m going to continue quoting from the NIV translation on this blog, for the time being. But if I really start to like the ESV translation, I may switch, and start quoting from that, instead. I even toyed with the idea of starting to put all of my quotes in two versions, side by side; perhaps NIV or ESB, and then NASB. However, in many cases, that might be overkill; in some instances, the NASB might make the author’s intent more clear, but in other cases, it won’t add anything. I suppose what I should do is include the side by side quotes when it will help, and just use a readable version in other cases. We’ll see.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Numbers 28

Numbers 28: Various types of offerings

Synopsis

In this chapter, Numbers switches gears and goes back into detail about some rules and regulations that the LORD is handing down to the Israelites. There is a very good chance that these rules are all reiterations of rules that have already been handed down to Moses, but, as always, I’m presenting them as they are in the chapter, instead of just saying “refer to Exodus chapter X.”

  • Daily Offerings
    • Every day, the Israelites were to present two offerings to the LORD, one in the morning, and one at twilight. I think these are offerings on behalf of the entire nation, rather than offerings that every individual family were to present, but that’s not stated explicitly in the text. At each of the two offerings, they were to offer:
      • A burnt offering of a year-old lamb, without defect.
      • A grain offering, consisting of of 2 litres of fine flour mixed with 1 litre of oil from pressed olives.
      • A drink offering, consisting of of a litre of “fermented drink” (verse 7), which, I’m assuming, would have been wine.
  • Sabbath Offerings
    • On the Sabbath, in addition to the daily offering, they were to offer two additional lambs, as burnt offerings, along with the extra grain and drink offerings to go with them.
  • Monthly Offerings
    • On the first of every month—which, by the Israelite calendar, would have been at the “new moon” (verse 14)—they were to offer more offerings:
      • Burnt offerings, consisting of two young bulls, one ram, and seven year-old male lambs. Of course, all of the animals were to be without defect.
      • Grain offerings, for each animal, consisting of: 6.5 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for each bull; 4.5 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for the ram; 2 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for each lamb.
      • Drink offerings, for each animal, consisting of: 2 litres of wine for each bull; 1.2 litres of wine for the ram; 1 litre of wine for each lamb.
  • The Passover
    • On the fourteenth day of the first month, the Israelites were to begin their celebration of the Passover by holding a “sacred assembly” (verse 18), and doing no work. (I may or may not have mentioned this—I’ve probably mentioned it ad nauseum—but Passover was originated in Exodus 12, when the LORD was killing the first-born in every household, but “passed over” the Israelite houses.) On the fifteenth day, the Israelites were to have a festival.
    • For seven days, they were to eat bread made without yeast, and on the seventh day, they were to have another sacred assembly, and do no work.
    • Each day of the festival, they were to offer the following, in addition to the normal daily offering:
      • Burnt offerings, consisting of two young bulls, one ram, and seven male year-old lambs, all without defect.
      • Grain offerings, for each animal, consisting of: 6.5 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for each bull; 4.5 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for the ram; 2 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for each lamb.
  • Feast of Weeks
    • On the “day of firstfruits” (verse 26), the Israelites were to have a sacred assembly, and do no work.
    • In addition to the regular daily/monthly offerings, they were to offer the following:
      • Burnt offerings, consisting of two young bulls, one ram, and seven male year-old lambs, all without defect.
      • Grain offerings, for each animal, consisting of: 6.5 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for each bull; 4.5 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for the ram; 2 litres of fine flour (mixed with oil) for each lamb.

Thoughts

I don’t have too much to say about these rules, especially since they’re probably all covered elsewhere. Some of these Old Testament books have a habit of switching back and forth between action, censuses, and listings of rules, regulations, and laws. I think God is reminding the Israelites of these rules before they go in to take possession of the Promised Land.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Numbers 27:12–23

Numbers 27:12–23: The LORD Appoints Joshua to Succeed Moses

Synopsis

In this passage, the LORD prepares Moses to be “gathered to his people,” since he is not to be allowed to enter the Promised Land with the rest of the Israelites. (Because of his and Aaron’s sin in Numbers 20.)

Now that the Israelites are very close to the land, God instructs Moses to go up onto the top of a mountain, so that he can see the Promised Land, before he dies. However, Moses is concerned about who will take over the leadership of the Israelites, once he’s gone:

Moses said to the LORD, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (verses 15–17)

So God commands Moses to lay his hand on Joshua, and then have Eleazar and the Israelites commission him. He tells Moses to give Joshua some of his authority, so that the Israelites will obey him. (I find it interesting that the LORD tells Moses to give Joshua some of his authority.) Joshua, the leader, and Eleazar, the High Priest, are to work together: Eleazar is to obtain decisions from the LORD by using the Urim, but Joshua is the one who is to command the Israelites.

So, as instructed, Joshua is commissioned to lead the Israelites, once Moses is gone.

Thoughts

Moses doesn’t actually die, in this passage. This is just preparation for his death. We still have the rest of the book of Numbers, plus the entire book of Deuteronomy, before he will actually be “gathered to his people.”

The Urim is mentioned here, as the means by which Eleazar is to get decisions from the LORD. For more information on the Urim and the Thummim, see my entry for Exodus 28. (I don’t know why this passage specifically mentions the Urim, and not the Thummim.) Note how this style of seeking the LORD’s will—obtaining decisions from the LORD through this device—contrasts with Moses’ privilege of speaking with the LORD face to face.

Numbers 27:1–11

Numbers 27:1–11: Zelophehad’s Daughters

Synopsis

In the last chapter, as part of the census, it was mentioned that there was a man named Zelophehad who had no sons, only daughters. (I didn’t mention their names, at the time, but they were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. It’s not really important to the story, but what the heck, you have them now.) In this passage, the daughters approach Moses and Eleazar the High Priest, and demand to have their father’s inheritance:

“Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” (verses 3–4)

So Moses approaches the LORD, to ask Him about it. And the LORD’s answer may or may not surprise you:

So Moses brought their case before the LORD and the LORD said to him, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and turn their father’s inheritance over to them.

Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to be a legal requirement for the Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses.’”

(verses 5–11)


It’s not recorded here, but when the Israelites get to the Promised Land, this will be carried out, and Zelophehad’s daughters will be given his inheritance.

Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised the first time I read this, and I have to wonder if the Israelites were surprised too, or if this is what they would have expected the LORD to say. In their society, it may very well have surprised the Israelites that the LORD commanded for some women to be given an inheritance that would normally go to men. (In fact, knowing the human heart, they may even have assumed that a man having only daughters, and no sons, would be a curse from the LORD, and that his line shouldn’t get an inheritance—but this passage definitely pops that balloon.)

The “Immutability” of God

I saw a good post on the Withering Fig blog, on 1 John 2:17. You can read the post here.

He’s talking about the “immutability” of God—which means that God never changes. (Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Numbers 26

Numbers 26: The Second Census

Synopsis

In this chapter, the Israelites take another census. They took one at the beginning of the book (Numbers 1 and Numbers 3), which was basically at the beginning of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. Now they’re taking another, when they’re almost done their wandering in the desert.

The outline of this census is somewhat similar to that of Numbers 1; in verses 4–51 the heads of each clan are listed, and then the number of people in that clan is given. The results are as follows; from the descendants of:

  • Reuben: 43,730
  • Simeon: 22,200
  • Gad: 40,500
  • Judah: 76,500
  • Issachar: 64,300
  • Zebulun: 60,500
  • Joseph:
    • Manasseh: 52,700
    • Ephraim: 32,500
  • Benjamin: 45,600
  • Dan: 64,400
  • Asher: 53,400
  • Naphtali: 45,400

For a total of 610,730. Which is about the same number of Israelites as were recorded in the first census.

There are some differences between the two censuses, though; this one gives some extra detail, about some of the people listed:

  • Verses 8–11: Some of the members of Korah’s rebellion are pointed out
  • Verse 33 points out that one of the clan leaders, Zelophehad, had no sons, only daughters. We’ll see why this is important in a later chapter.


The LORD then gives instructions about how the Promised Land is to be divided up among the Israelites:

The LORD said to Moses, “The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed. Be sure that the land is distributed by lot. What each group inherits will be according to the names for its ancestral tribe. Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups.” (verses 52–56)


Following this, in verses 57–62, the Levites are counted. They’re counted separately, because they receive no inheritance with the other Israelites. There are 23,000 Levites.

Finally, verses 63–65 make explicit that the group of Israelites counted in this census is a completely different set of Israelites from the ones counted in the first one, since the first set all died off in the desert, because of their sin. (Except for Caleb and Joshua.)

Thoughts

The two censuses recorded in Numbers seem to be almost bookends, around the wanderings in the desert. The first one counts all of the Israelites who sinned, and were punished, and then the second one counts the next generation of Israelites, who will go into the Promised Land. The numbers recorded in this census will determine who get the largest pieces of land, when it’s divided up.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Numbers 25

Numbers 25: Israel is Seduced

Synopsis

For the last few chapters, Israel has been doing pretty good. Through the LORD’s strength they have won battle after battle. In this chapter, however, they stumble. (Incidentally, in the NIV, the heading for this section is “Moab Seduces Israel,” but I thought “Israel is Seduced” might be a bit more accurate; true, Moab might have seduced them, but they let themselves be seduced, even though they knew better. This was probably presumptuous of me, since the LORD also has harsh words for Moab, on this subject.)

While the Israelites are camped near the Moabites, the Moabite women start inviting the Israelite men to the sacrifices to their gods, where they indulge in sexual immorality. The god they were worshipping was the “Baal of Peor” (verse 3). This angers the LORD, who commands Moses to take the leaders of the people, kill them, and expose them in broad daylight, to turn His anger away from the rest of the Israelites. It says “the leaders of these people” (verse 4, emphasis added), which leads me to indicate He is referring to the leaders of the guilty people, not the overall Israelite leaders.

Moses delegates this responsibility; he talks to the judges, and commands them that they must kill any of their men who have joined in the Baal worship. While this is happening, although it’s not explicitly stated, there is also a plague from the LORD, which is killing the Israelites, because of His anger.

As Moses is talking to the judges, the “whole assembly of Israel” (verse 6) has gathered at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, and are weeping, which indicates to me that it’s not the entire nation who has sinned; it’s a subset of the people. (Either that or they’re just weeping because of the plague.) But, as this is all going on, an Israelite man brings a Midianite woman home to his tent, in full view of everyone. (Later, in verses 14–15, the names of the man and woman are given, although you probably don’t care too much about their names.)

Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, takes a spear, and goes into the man’s tent. He drives the spear through the man and the woman, killing them. At this point, the plague against the Israelites is stopped, although 24,000 people have died.

The LORD is pleased with Phinehas’ action, “for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among [the Israelites], so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them” (verse 11). Because of this, the LORD makes a covenant with Phinehas, that his descendants will have a lasting priesthood.

God then commands Moses to treat the Midianites as enemies, and kill them, since they treated the Israelites as enemies, by deceiving them.

Thoughts

This chapter emphasizes, once again, that the Israelites are to worship God, and God alone. He will not tolerate another “god” taking His place in the Israelites’ lives. His response, when they worship other gods, may seem extreme, to us, but that’s because we don’t hold God as high in our esteem as we should. Even Christians—especially in North America, which is a very individualistic society—tend to have a view of God which is much smaller than He really is. We also have a view of His role in our lives which is smaller than it should be. (If you’d like to read a book, along these lines, I highly recommend Concerning the End for Which God Created The World, by Jonathan Edwards. Or you can get God’s Passion for His Glory, by John Piper, which starts out as a synopsis of the Edwards book, and then ends with the complete text. It’s a very hard read, but well worth it, in my oh-so-humble opinion.)

I’m led to believe that worship of many pagan gods included sexual activities—some temples to pagan gods even had “temple prostitutes”—which, to my mind, goes at least part of the way to explaining why the Israelites fell into idolatry so often, in their history. If the Moabites had asked the Israelites, “Hey, do you want to come and sacrifice to our gods?” the answer would probably have been “No, we have our own God, thank you very much.” But when the Moabites asked them, “Hey, do you want to come and join in on our sexual activities, as part of our worship?” it was much more tempting. (That’s not 100% true; the Israelites might also worship other gods simply to “hedge their bets;” they might worship God, but also worship another god to try and get good crops, and another god to have many children, etc. But my point is that the sex was probably also a huge lure to them.)

Get used to hearing the name “Baal” because you’ll be encountering it throughout the rest of the Old Testament. I believe it’s pronounced similar to “bail,” although when I first started reading the Bible I didn’t go to church, and, never having heard the name, had always assumed it was pronounced more like “ball.” I had thought that “Baal” was the name of one particular god, but in this case, the god is referred to as “the Baal of Peor,” which leads me to wonder if there were multiple gods named “Baal.”

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Numbers 24:20–25

Numbers 24:20–25: Balak and Balaam—Balaam’s Final Oracles

Synopsis

As we’ve been reading, Balak asked Balaam to come and curse Israel, and the LORD caused Balaam to bless them instead. Three times in a row. When Balak got angry and sent Balaam home, Balaam issued another “parting” oracle, which dealt specifically with how Israel was going to beat Balak’s nation.

In this chapter, Balaam issues his final oracle, before finally leaving. Except that, in my mind, it’s actually three oracles. God gives him some little mini prophecies, about some of the other nations in the area.

First, the Amelekites:

Then Balaam saw Amalek and uttered his oracle:
  “Amalek was first among the nations,
  but he will come to ruin at last.”

(verse 20)


This one’s not really that specific, but it might still have been surprising for those who heard it. When he says that Amalek “was first,” but will come to ruin, it indicates to me that the Amelekites were very powerful, at the time. Whenever there is a very powerful nation, it’s always a bit unbelievable to imagine them coming to nothing. (Although it’s happened to every great nation that ever existed. Take note, America!)

Balaam next sets his eyes on the Kenites:

Then he saw the Kenites and uttered his oracle:
  “Your dwelling place is secure,
  your nest is set in a rock;

yet you Kenites will be destroyed
  when Asshur takes you captive.”

(verses 21–22)


This one is a bit more specific, because he actually tells us which nation will take the Kenites captive.

Finally, he issues one more oracle, about Asshur and Eber:

Then he uttered his oracle:
  “Ah, who can live when God does this?

Ships will come from the shores of Kittim;
  they will subdue Asshur and Eber,
  but they too will come to ruin.”

(verses 23–24)


So just in case the nation of Asshur—the “Asshurites?”—is tempted to get too cocky, they should be aware that they too will be subdued, by the Kittimites. Who should also not get too cocky, because they too will “come to ruin.”

Finally, after all of this, Balaam returns home. I’m sure Balak thinks it’s not a moment too soon.

Thoughts

Again, I don’t know how soon these prophecies are going to take place. (I don’t claim to know my Old Testament history that well.) We’ll just have to keep reading—or I’ll have to keep blogging—to find out.

Numbers 24:15–19

Numbers 24:15–19: Balak and Balaam—Balaam’s Fourth Oracle

Synopsis

Up to this point, Balaam has been uttering oracles—given to him by the LORD—which have shown that Israel is God’s chosen people, and that He is going to help them defeat their enemies. In the last passage, Balaam told Balak that he would give another oracle, about “what this people will do to your people in days to come” (verse 14). Here’s that oracle:

Then he uttered his oracle:
  “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
  the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly,

the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
  who has knowledge from the Most High,
  who sees a vision from the Almighty,
  who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:

“I see him, but not now;
  I behold him, but not near.
  A star will come out of Jacob;
  a scepter will rise out of Israel.
  He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
  the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.

Edom will be conquered;
  Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
  but Israel will grow strong.

A ruler will come out of Jacob
  and destroy the survivors of the city.”

(verses 14–19)


There isn’t anything else in this passage, any action or anything, just this oracle.

Thoughts

I’m not actually sure if all of the events prophesied here will happen immediately; it’s possible that some of the things prophesied here might take hundreds of years to come to pass. That’s often the way with prophecies. We’ll just have to see, in upcoming chapters and books.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Numbers 23:27–24:14

Numbers 23:27–24:14: Balak and Balaam—Balaam’s Third Oracle

Synopsis

Balaam has now uttered two oracles to Balak, both of which were in the Israelites’ favour, rather than the Moabites’, so you’d think that Balak would give up, cut his losses, and send Balaam home. Unfortunately (for Balak), this is not the case.

Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” (verse 23:27)

I find this pretty mule-headed. God gives Balak a message that the Israelites are His people, and He won’t abandon them, then He gives another message in which He says that He is not a man, that He should change his mind. But Balak still tries again, thinking that maybe a change of scenery would somehow change God’s mind.

As before, they build seven altars, and sacrifice a bull and a ram on each one. But then, in verse 24:1, it says that this time Balaam “did not resort to sorcery as at other times,” but simply turned his face toward the desert, where the Israelites were, at which time the Spirit came upon him, and he uttered his third oracle. It never specified, in previous passages, what type of sorcery Balaam was using, but apparently he was resorting to his normal, pagan practices, whereas this time the Spirit of the LORD simply came to him.

When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle:
  “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
  the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly,

the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
  who sees a vision from the Almighty,
  who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:

“How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
  your dwelling places, O Israel!

“Like valleys they spread out,
  like gardens beside a river,
  like aloes planted by the LORD,
  like cedars beside the waters.

Water will flow from their buckets;
  their seed will have abundant water.
  “Their king will be greater than Agag;
  their kingdom will be exalted.

“God brought them out of Egypt;
  they have the strength of a wild ox.
  They devour hostile nations
  and break their bones in pieces;
  with their arrows they pierce them.

Like a lion they crouch and lie down,
  like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?
  “May those who bless you be blessed
  and those who curse you be cursed!”

(verses 24:2–9)


As you can see, these oracles just keep getting worse and worse for Balak. Not only is Israel being blessed, instead of being cursed, but now God is declaring a curse on anyone who attempts to curse them! So Balak gets angry with Balaam, and tells him to go home. He says that he would have rewarded Balaam, but that the LORD has prevented him from being rewarded. To which Balaam answers that he had warned Balak, right from the beginning, that he could do nothing other than what God let him do. The passage ends with a rather ominous—for Balak—sentence:

“Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come.” (verse 24:14)

In the next passage, we’ll see what that is.

Thoughts

There’s not much to say about this passage, that I didn’t say about previous passages. I notice that the oracles are not just getting more and more in favour of Israel, but also that Balaam seems to be worshipping the LORD more and more each time. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that he is becoming a true follower of God. Revelation 2:14 indicates that there were other dealings between Balaam and Balak, aside from what is recorded here, in which Balaam taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin, with food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality.