Monday, February 28, 2011

The Shema & How Deuteronomy is laid out

Today's readings are from Deuteronomy 5, 6, 7.

Reading through this section makes us realize what is going on in this "second law" giving. It is not that there is something revised, nor something given that hadn't been given before. The word that best describes what is happening in Deuteronomy is "expansion".

In chapter 5, what we call the "ten commandments", the "Decalogue" is restated. This is the covenant that Israel entered into with God some 40 years before at Mt. Sinai. As this new generation - of which many had been at the mount with their parents - gets ready to enter the land, it is important to "renew" the vows of that covenant. What follows then in Deuteronomy is the covenant restated, and, the expansion on what each of these statements mean.

So, chapter 6 opens with what it means to say "we will have no other gods..." The words are the core of Judaism, and the core of us as Christians, since Jesus reminded us that these are the most important words of the law.

"Hear, O Israel: The lord our God, the lord is one. Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

What follows reminds them and us of why this is so central. We put our faith in God as one, in essence, and one as person, because the habit is for people to create other things to worship. It might be "a god", an idol, carved out of wood or stone; or "a god" might be a material possession, a hobby, a career, a political ideology, or even a religion. When any other object, or thing, becomes more important than our relationship to God it is a god.

When they would come into the land, that temptation would be all around them; but at the same time, it would cause them to lose sight of the real blessing - that God had given them the land as a possession, an inheritance, and it was this that should never forget. We must not forget the blessings we've received. It may be fashionable to say "I've earned it", and in fact, even correct to say "I've worked really hard"; but if we lose sight of God we forget that it was he who gave us the knowledge, the skills, and the talents to do what has made us gain in wealth and possessions. This is crucial not only for us, but also for our children. To them, we teach everyday. We teach them that God is our hope and our strength. To him belongs faith, love, obedience to his word, because he has redeemed us. Moses says to them and us, that to our children...

"tell him: 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.'"

We were slaves...not just in Egypt, but yes, in Egypt and God is the God of redemption and freedom.

The rest of the reading in chapter 7 goes on to make application to their journey of entering into the land and conquering it. While we can focus on the various commands to conquer it "completely", what strikes me is the covenantal aspect of that.

"The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt."

As you finish reading realize that all of these commands make the application of "we should have no other gods before us".

Peace








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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reminder of Why?

Today's reading is from Deuteronomy 3 & 4

If there is anything true about us is that we minimize the "real" stuff around us for the fake. We concentrate on the things that are minimal in importance while ignoring the bigger things of life. Why? We forget. Or as one southern preacher put it, "when it comes to God's spirit, we leak!"

When Moses begins to outline the importance of what he is sharing, he sets the stage with the big picture. He says in these chpts:

"What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them."

Let's get this: God is near...not afar. God has shared his heart with us so that we might know what life is suppose to be like. Don't forget. Teach them to the generations that come after us so they don't either.
It's not too complicated, it just requires "intentionality", "purpose", "focus".

"Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the lord your God gives you for all time."

Acknowledge....it means to give our hearts to it. Not just mental assent, but the agreement in our soul and spirit that this is true. God is the God of heaven above, and he dwells among us as the people of God. Pass it on to your children...it's the most important thing they can receive - a spiritual inheritance.

Peace
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Deuteronomy

Today we start reading through the book or Deuteronomy, chpts 1 & 2

Deuteronomy is one of my favorite books in the Bible. Literally the word means "second law". It wasn't that the law was changed, or that it was simply repeated. Instead it was a new generation and they were about to enter into the land; and Moses recounted for this new generation all that God had said to them so that they could know how to apply this as they entered into their inheritance.

In these first two chapters Moses reminds this new generation of why they were the ones to go into the land while their parent's generation had been set aside 40 years before. The lesson was clear, obedience counts. If we want the blessings of God - and make no mistake they were not going to succeed without God - they needed to pay attention to the details. It's sort of like getting something new and ignoring the owner's manual...seldom does it pay off in the end.

What was clear was that God had prepared them for their inheritance...now it was time to claim it...true for us in Christ also.

Peace


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Friday, February 25, 2011

Cities of Refuge

Today's readings are in Numbers 35, 36

The essence of these chapters is summed up in the last verse of 36: "These are the commands and regulations the lord gave through Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho."

Again the instructions have to do with societal peace and it's sacred (holy) character. Because of sin in our fallen character there are bound to be societal crises. Murder is the biggy. Knowing that someone may intentionally kill another, God makes clear how society should act.

"'Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the lord, dwell among the Israelites.'"

I don't think the issue is retribution, but one of societal safety and purity. Where intentionality exists the society is in danger.

But, in case of accidental homicide where there was no intentionality, the cities of refuge under the control of the Levites, and scattered throughout all of Israel, would serve as a place for safety and calm judgement to occur. Our laws mirror the Biblical principles here: "Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness."

What is at stake in all of this, including the next chapter's - seemingly unrelated - story is the order and safety of a society. society run on laws that do not protect life cannot expect God's favor, blessings, or protection.

Peace

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Details before moving in

Today's readings are in Numbers 33, 34.

Like all moves there is a place you've come from (chpt 33) and the place your moving to (34).

The Israelite's journey had been recorded from place to place. There were a lot of places. They have moved to the plains of the Jordan river and we're camped in a place from which they were going to go in and take the land. The key point God makes to them, that will serve prophetically to become a snare to them was in 33 when he says,

"drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places...But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live."

Unfortunately that is what came to pass. We'll see down the road how the incompleteness of their "driving out" led to much pain. It's a principle that is true in the sense of receiving God's grace today. What we leave behind from the past becomes a snare and a source of much grief to our own souls. So Paul says things like: "put off the old man, and put on the new man..."

The last chapter has details on moving into the land. The boundaries will probably seem difficult with the exception that the Mediterranean Sea is the western edge, and the Jordan river is the Eastern edge. The rest of the chapter could help any of us who have children and move in to a new house...take time to discuss dividing up the rooms - in this case the land - and make it possible to have everyone involved. While the land was God's gift to the Israelites, they would have to possess it and then steward it right....that's true for our lives also today.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The enemies at the gate.

Today's reading is from Numbers 31 & 32

As the children of Israel get closer to the land, a number of things take place while still outside of their territory.
First they face a battle with the Midianites. Midian has long been an enemy to Israel. This Canaanite group had opposed Israel from their original attempts to move towards the land 40 years before. It was one of the groups that God had spoken Abraham about some 400+ years before indicating that there religious practices were sickening. The conquest of the Midianites was just the first of many tribal/territorial battles to take place,

The final section had to do with the request of 2&1/2 tribes seeking territory on the east side of the Jordan. At first Moses is angry at their request, citing the same failure of their fathers 40 years before to go into the land. With their promise to arm their men and cross over Moses concedes the conquered land east of the Jordan to them.

This concession through time would end up being detrimental to them. Can't help but realize that God's provision for them to start with was really what was best for them.We're always better off in not adding to, or taking from God's word.

Peace


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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Offerings , Festivals, Vows

Today's readings are from Numbers 28, 29, 30

The offerings that are associated with the 7 major festivals linked the sacrificial types with each event. There were seven major festivals in Israel's calendar year. The first four were in the Spring: Passover, then immediately a week long Feast of Unleavened bread, then a Sabbath day, Firstfruits which is then followed by 7 weeks and a day (50 days) to Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks.
Then a gap of about four months took place until the Fall festivals: Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kipput) and Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths (Sukkoth).

The chapter on vows reminded each Israelite that God takes seriously the making of vows. Promises made count, would that we would take that seriously today.

I once heard Dallas Willard - in reply to a question on how he would actually go about "making a disciple - say that the first thing he would train a person in is in "letting your yes be yes, and your no, be no". In other words, teaching the sacredness of your words as promises, or as not agreeing to promise, or vow. That is profoundly important.

Peace

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Monday, February 21, 2011

38 years later

Today's readings are in Numbers 26 and 27.

The first part is easy to read through quickly. We don't recognize most of the names, but there is significance in the census. It is has been 38 years since the children of Israel had been taken out of Egypt; and that census of men had all died out over the years of time. The total was just over 600,000 men, so the tribes must have totaled over 2 million.

Chapter 27 is interesting in two ways. One is the decision that women could inherit property in order to keep territory in family names. The decision made in 1400 B.C. under Moses was still in effect in records just before the Exile several hundred years later.

The last part of the chapter designates Joshua to take over the mantel of leadership after Moses' death.

The census, property rights, inheritance, leadership...it sounds like the stuff of ordinary citizenship. No details were unimportant.

Peace


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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Balaam

Today's reading is from Numbers 21, 22, 23, 24

Today's readings allow us to see how the Israelites were perceived by the nations around them as they moved towards the land. Early advances were met by military resistance, but in each case God gave the army favor and support in winning battles - even though the armies that opposed them knew the layout of the land, and should have had superior advantages.

What's fascinating in the narrative is the story of Balaam and Balak. Balak was a Moabite king.
Moab was not in the territory, or land area, that God had promised the Israelites; but nevertheless they feared the Israelites. After seeing what their army had done to the Amorites, Balak decided to fight them with "curses", and so sought out Balaam.

What's obvious from the text is that Balaam knows Yahweh. He hears from God, and when he does travel towards the land, God sends an angel along to make sure he gets the point..."only say what I tell you to say". He was a "diviner"...a person who spoke "oracles" - sayings that represented either curses or blessings on those who they were intended for.
Balak thought that if Balaam would curse the nation, then he would have a military advantage over the Israelites. The story is rich as a story...imagine the scenes, they are full of dialog and rich in understanding how God viewed the nation of Israel in spite of all their complaining and lack of faith.

In the end, Balaam only blesses - BUT, the outcome of his visit is that we quickly see that while the enemy cannot destroy the nation from outside - militarily - they can act like a cancer from the inside and do it through immorality.

The story of Balaam is a story of being seduced by material promises, and hedging obedience by not being fully obedient to God's word.

Peace

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

Today's reading is in Number 19, 20

The first part of this reading concerns the water of cleansing that is made from the sacrifice of a heifer - literally, a red cow - and in mixture with other materials: hyssop, other red components from trees, flowers, was all burnt, and its ashes was mixed with water to make up this water of cleansing. The resulting ashes when mixed were red in color, a symbol of the blood. It's interesting that this probably follows later than the next chapter, since Eleazer, Aaron's son is priest at this time. Perhaps it's the next chapter that creates the occasion for this to be put into place.

Now, why do it? Most of the laws concerned the cleansing from times of being unclean. This usually had to do with the death of another person. It might be within the family, in the same tent, or in some cases militarily in battles. The rituals all make sense in the context of health, sanitation, and respect for life.

The next chapter has to do with two main things: first, there is water provided miraculously in the desert from a rock. But, this water from the rock story - the second one in the Torah - is marked by the frustration, anger and disobedience of Moses and Aaron in striking the rock (twice) when God had told them to speak to it. What seems a bit trivial, and given all of the complaining that had been occurring, we can give Moses some room to understand his frustration, nevertheless it is crossing over a line before God.

"But the lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.'"

The chapter ends with Israel's failed negotiations to take the nation through the land of Edom (which were descendants of Esau) and the death of Aaron on Mount Hor and the consecration of Eleazor, his son, as the new High Priest.

Moses' disobedience is a reminder that leadership has it's responsibilities that should stop us to make sure what we do is done for the honor and glory of God and not just for our own selves.


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Friday, February 18, 2011

Korah's Rebellion and the Priesthood

Today's readings are from Numbers 16, 17, 18

Reading through this section represents lessons in God's character. The complaining has turned towards outright rebellion as Korah's family, a Levite, but not a priest, along with a family or two from the tribe of Dan, come to complain to Moses and Aaron about their authority.

In essence, they say Moses and Aaron aren't the only ones who are priests. In truth, that is correct. The whole nation was called to be a nation of priests; but the responsibilities of the priesthood were given by God to Aaron, and not a power grab on the part of Moses and Aaron. In effect, their rebellion was against God.

The judgement that follows is stark...frightening in imagination. It's hard to know it all took place, but it did. 250 of the followers of the rebellion die, including family members, even children. It is a terrible thought to put in the mind of the reader - that rebellion could have at it's fruit this kind of scene.

There is more that follows...and at the end of 16, Aaron's act is tantamount to the role of the priest in offering up sacrifices for the sins of the people to save them from God's judgment.

The last chapter brings all of this to a teachable point. God chose Aaron's family to serve as priests. While that choosing brings with it blessing, it also brings a responsibility and limitations. God says to Aaron - "The lord said to Aaron, 'You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.'"

The service of the priest has been compared to the role of the pastor. As a pastor, there are some similarities, but much more differences. Yet, being a spokesperson of God's word, praying, shepherding, counseling, etc..all weigh in as responsibilities that can't be ignored.

Peace

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The fruit of disobedience

Today's readings are from Numbers 14 & 15

The grumbling and complaining we read about yesterday took the form of a full scale rebellion that was so severe that some said:

"And they said to each other, 'We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.'"

The disobedience that marked this rebellion would mark this entire gene ratio of Israelites. God, who had delivered them and had begun to create a nation with them gave his own judgement:

"...not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it."

"In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me."

There is not much to say...the next forty years are spent wandering in the wilderness - a wandering marked by futility for a generation that had originally seen God's hand in deliverance and redemption. It is a sad story, but one that we need to prayerfully reflect upon for our own lives.

Peace



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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

Today's readings are from Numbers 11, 12, 13

We move beyond the counting and arranging of things to more narrative story...and, it's not so good. All three chapters recount various troubling incidents, culminating with the report of ten of those who scouted out the land and concluded they didn't want to go in and conquer it. I get ahead of myself.

First, the source of trouble is the complaining and whining of the whole camp that leads to fire at the outside edge of the camp.

"Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp."

That is followed by more complaining about having just manna to eat, with the comparison of how much better it was in Egypt.
"We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"
God's answer to this was interesting. He told Moses to appoint 70 others to be leaders among the people - because the load of leading such a large group was getting to Moses. He also told Moses that he was going to send them meat to eat (in the form of Quail)...not just for a day, but for a whole month!
The end result of this was that when they got the Quail, along with it came a 'plague' - probably a form of food poisoning.

It's interesting to see that it all begins with this general spirit of complaining, whining about "what we don't have", "what we use to have", instead of gratefulness for what we do have. The idea that they wanted to go back to Egypt seems preposterous when you think about it. Just a year and a few months before they were slaves, and now in the desert they want to go back?

The complaining moves from the "rabble" to Moses' closest kin - Aaron and Miriam, his brother and sister. They don't like it that he seemingly has so much power. That God rebukes in front of them, turning Miriam's skin leprous before their eyes. Tensions are running high in the camp, and when people are tense, under pressure, they react in sometimes very fleshly ways.

Lastly, in chapter 13 the complaining turns towards rebellion. Twelve men are sent out, one from every tribe, to spy out the land and see what needs to be done to conquer it...this is the land God promised them through the deliverance from Egypt...the land God gave to Abraham hundreds of years before.

It seems that by this time the spirit of complaining has become so widespread that it is like a virus, infecting almost all. When they return, they cannot see God in any of it. All they can see are "giants". We make much more out of troubles, and make God much less than able in the spirit of complaint.

It's one of the Psalms that says, "A thankful heart prepares a place for you, Oh God." Truer words couldn't be spoken.

Peace


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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The First Passover, Getting ready to Move on

Today's readings are in Numbers 9 & 10

The Israelites are still near Mt. Sinai, but they are getting ready to move on. A whole year has passed since they left Egypt. In that time the Tabernacle has been built and they have received the laws that will direct them as a nation. They are ready to go to the promised land that is north of them.

The first thing that marks their preparation to leave is the first Passover worship. On the fourteenth day of the 1st month (around April) they celebrate Passover. Provisions for those who cannot celebrate are made. All are included, even those who are foreigners dwelling among them. God is the God of all peoples and the purpose is to bring glory to God's redemption to the nations - beginning with this one nation.

The next chapter seems at first to be another of those "minor details" - making trumpets. Yet the trumpets were an integral part of their communication - sort of their warning system, their noon whistle, the church bells on Sunday I grew up hearing. They were used to summons leaders, to break camp in preparation for leaving, to call to worship, to summons the military for warfare. Think of trumpets at a military funeral - their distinctive sound is meant to convey solemnness and honor of a former soldier.

At last they break camp: "On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law...Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran."

The description is amazing if we can imagine a camp of 2 million people taking down everything from their tents, household furnishings, the Tabernacle, all of the animals, children, etc...and moving across the desert in an orderly way. It must have been quite the sight.

God's development of this nation is an awesome display of his purposes. He gathers these people out of slavery, redeems them, delivers them, and gives them victory over their enemy. Then, as redeemed people, he gives them instruction in terms of their culture, and his ways. He calls them to be a nation of priests - a nation that is going to show the other nations what it means to know and follow the Lord - Yahweh. Everything is prepared...it all looks good, BUT... that's tomorrow.

Peace


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Monday, February 14, 2011

Dedication and Consecration

Today's reading is in Numbers 7 & 8

One of the final things to occur while camped at Sinai are these two acts that involved Dedication and Consecration.

First the dedication of a set of gifts for the Tabernacle. It involved the same things in exact measurement from each tribe - none gave more than another - none gave less. It is a beautiful picture of all that involves setting apart gifts to give to the Lord's work. These gifts are measured, intentional, and offered as to God, not men. The chapter ends with these words:

"When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the lord spoke to him."

What the Lord speaks to him in chapter 8 is the second act: the consecration of the Levites for service. The Tabernacle itself is now complete, and ready for use. So now the servants of God for the Tabernacle are called, set apart, and consecrated for their service. I think it must have been a beautiful site for the Israelites to have beheld. There by the Tabernacle, the tent of meeting, where God would meet with his people, stands several thousand Levites - 1/12 of the tribe - set apart to oversee the Spiritual service of the nation. In a 24/7 style, they would minister before the altar of the Lord and keep the relationship with God the primary objective of what the nation was all about.

It's interesting how my active service would have been over with for 11 years already according to the command of the Lord at the end of chpt 8:

"The lord said to Moses, "This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer."

One can't help but note that this is a change from the earlier statement of age 30 to 50. At age 50 they were not retired as such, but stepped back from the active service of day by day. God had a much more generous retirement system in place than we could have imagined!

Peace


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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Men and Women - Bad and Good

Today's reading is from Number 5 & 6.

The summary of today's readings is that provisions are made in the law to protect relationships.

The first protection is for the marriage. Chapter 5 records what seems to us to be a rather archaic ritual to decide if the jealousy of a man is justified. If he suspects his wife has been unfaithful she is taken to the Priest and there a vow is spoken to proclaim her purity. She then drinks a potion and the proof of her purity is that nothing bad happens to her. While this seems so archaic from our view, it served it's purpose to highlight that faithfulness of partners in marriage was crucial to a nation's stability.

The second part dealt with how men and women could enter into a "Nazarite" vow of dedication to the Lord. Conceivably they entered into this for a period of time, rather than for their whole lives; and it consisted of making a pledge to serve God in some particular way, while avoiding anything connected to the grapevine, including wine.

There are several places in scripture where Nazarites vows appear in persons - perhaps the most famous being John the Baptist.

Peace


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Priestly Clans

Today's reading is from Numbers 3 - 4.

The numerical quality of Numbers continues with a count of the sons of Aaron's clans and the assignment of their duties.

What is interesting is the way each clan is counted. There are two counts. One is the number of men between the ages of 30 and 50. These were the men assigned to different aspects of moving the Ark. Some had the structure poles, ropes, frames. Some had the cloths - huge cloth pieces that must have taken some time to disassemble and reassemble. Some were in charge of the various pieces of the tabernacle, including the Kohathites who were in charge of the Holy of Holy pieces. I find it interesting that the work was limited to that 20 year timespan. After 50 the priests retired?

The second count was of all males from the clans 1 month old and following. It was part of the tithe of the nation that the Levites represented - their dedication to serving the nation before God.
It is a great privilege and duty to be in a position like that. God's calling is for all of us to be priests before him; yet he continues to also raise up a people who serve in that place of dedicated service to him.

Peace

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Camping out in the Wilderness

Today's readings come from Numbers 1 - 2

What seems to be a monotonous census taking followed by a listing of camp details gives insight into the development of the nation. Of course, Numbers is about counting. The name of the book is not the Hebrew name, but rather the Greek title - "Arithemoi" - we recognize it as the word arithmetic...adding. The Hebrew title is simply "In the Wilderness". It is details about the tribes wilderness years.

The tribes in chapter 1 are counted by men able to serve in the army, over the age of 20. When all are counted there are over 600,000 men, and that does not include the Levites - not counted because they serve priestly duties rather than any other duties.

The insights gained from the listing is interesting. From Judah, Nahshon is listed as the leader. Later on Boaz in the book of Ruth is listed as a descendant of Nahshon. From Elishama comes Joshua, who would lead the nation after Moses' death.

In chapter 2 the details of how they camped were laid out. Just as there was a symmetry to creation, so God gives symmetry to the order of their set up as a tribe camping in the wilderness. Judah has prominence in the tribal order, but all twelve tribes serve to protect and surround the tabernacle that occupies the central position. Among a people, how they worship is a tell tale sign of how they will live and succeed.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Warnings and Misc. laws

Today's reading finishes Leviticus. Read 26 & 27

The first part of the readings is full of warnings, with promises mixed in for following the Lord with heart, soul and mind. Much of it contains promises, at first, that God gives to them for faithfulness to the law. Eventually there are warnings issued that relate to unfaithfulness. There are some who read in this a later addition to the law and it's possible that these last two sections are addendums to rest of the law - clarifying what should happen, or will happen in certain situations.

We've finished Leviticus. Much of what is written seems distant to our own experiences; but take a bigger look. There are many things from the law that translate into our own modern laws. They seek to protect human rights, property rights, dignity of humans and an understanding of what happens when humans have free reign to try to dominate others.

Peace

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jubilee

Today's readings come from Leviticus 24 & 25.

One of the most distinctive aspects of life under Yahweh was the way that Sabbath's were done. For example, all of chpt 25 details the celebration and Sabbath of the Jubilee Year. In Israel work was never to dominate life. Work for an agrarian culture was hard and depended upon the land; but that dependence and hard work could serve to harm rather than bless without God at the center of life. So how could they remember that the land, although extremely important, was not something to be used without regard, but rather something to be stewarded with God in mind? The answer was the celebration of Sabbath years, every seven years so that the land could rest, and the celebration of Jubilee years every 50 years to bring about restoration and remembrance of God in relation to the land.

First the land was to be rested every seventh year: "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards."

The principle is "stewardship" of the land. It is their livelihood, but it is also something that needed to be respected and cared for. That seventh year allowed the land to "rest", to replenish valuable nutrients and to be taken out of rotation. God had in mind something that we need to grasp hold of.

After 7, 7 year Sabbaths, the Jubilee year occurred.

"'Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years...
Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan."

The Jubilee was a consecrated year...the land was to be rested and also restored to the original family. In that way, the land became a part of the life of the nation and not the possession of a few. God reminded them:
"'The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers."

There has always been a temptation to hang on to possessions as "mine". We earned it, we worked hard for it, we deserve it. God says, it's mine, and I give it to you as a gift to use...only use it with care and use it with a sense of privilege.

Peace

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Festivals of Celebration and Commemoration

Today's readings are from Leviticus 22 & 23

I love the 23rd chapter as it outlines the 7 annual feasts of Israel. While we in the church generally celebrate two, maybe three: Christmas, Easter (sometimes Lent is included) and sometimes Pentecost (this is what most Evangelical protestant churches); but God gave many more weeks of celebration for his people...a sign that God loves holidays!

The basics of those days and weeks of celebration were these:

1. Passover (celebrating their deliverance from Egypt - 1 day usually)
2. Feast of Unleavened bread (remembering when they left Egypt in haste and also that leaven in bread is a bit like sin in us). This was a week long festival bracketed by Sabbath celebrations.
3. First Fruits (giving prayers and thanks to God for the ability to see the first of the potential harvest coming up).
4. Pentecost or "Feast of Weeks" (50 days after first fruits it serves as a thank you for the early harvest, but foretells the coming of the Spirit of God who is signifies in the church first fruits and eventual harvest of souls).
5. Feast of Trumpets or "Rosh Hashanah" (comes in early Fall and in the blowing of the trumpets the nation is called to seek God's face and receive his atonement for the forgiveness of sins. It is a ten day period of reflection, repentance and restoration).
6. Day of Atonement or "Yom Kippur) (at the end of the ten days a solemn assembly of worship sees the High Priest enter the holy place to sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat thereby signifying the forgiveness of sins for the nation).
7. Feast of Tabernacles or Booths also called Sukkoth (at the end of the Day of Atonement the final celebration gives thanksgiving for the Fall harvest and God's provision for the gifts of God). During Sukkoth the children of Israel live in booths, temporary shelters that caused them to remember that they once lived in booths in the desert.

These 7 annual festivals are outlined in chapter 23 and frame the year for worship, celebrating God's provisions: materially and spiritually for his people. While we don't have these (sadly so) they can serve as reminders for us of the kind of "intentional" worship that God so loves from his people.


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Monday, February 7, 2011

The Dignity of Community

Today's reading is Leviticus 19, 20, 21

The scripture reading is on what it means to be a community of people committed to living a standard that leads to dignity of people together in community.
It's easy to live selfishly. You have a life centered on "me"...what I want, what I feel, what I desire, what is me! To live in a manner that is not ME but US requires the heart of unselfishness. Jesus said it is "dying in order to live". He remind us that we'll never discover life in our selfishness...it only leads to disorientation and dysfunction. Look at the passage again. It is the ultimate call to the dignity of community.

Peace


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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Atonement

Today's readings come from Leviticus 16, 17, 18.

"For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life."

Leviticus 16 is one of the most important passages in detailing "The Day of Atonement". Occurring in the Fall of the year, this is considered Israel's highest and holiest day. Besides Passover it serves as the great reminder of God's provisions for redemption, forgiveness and fellowship with his people.

Aaron's (or the High Priest at the time) enters into the Holy of Holies to take the blood of the bull for his sin, and then later the blood of one of two goats to sprinkle upon the mercy seat. There "atonement" is made for the sins of the himself first, and then the nation. Once every year this ritual takes place. The blood is the source of the atonement...the life of all flesh is wrapped up in the blood. The second part of the atonement is the second goat - the scapegoat - which the high priest symbolically places the sins of the nation upon and then has someone take it out in the wilderness to release it...let it go. Atonement brings about redemption and forgiveness. God forgives by "letting go", "releasing from us" the sins that he will not remember.

The atonement is freedom for the Israelites. They are not called to religion, to random acts of performance to try to curry God's favor. They are not to shed blood, but make atonement with the blood of the goat once a year. All of this anticipates the coming of Christ Jesus, who through the blood of the lamb, once and for all makes atonement for the sins of the people.

It's fitting after all of this that the last chapter defines laws concerning sexuality. People do not use people to gratify their own pleasures. They give honor and dignity to all people. Sexuality is a gift from God in marriage and it's to be treasured and enjoyed, but that is where the gift gives life...outside of that it leads to much pain and suffering.

Let's live as forgiven, free people...amen?

Peace


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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Health Among the Tribe

Today's reading continues in Leviticus - 14 & 15

The issue of clean and unclean was discussed in my blog yesterday, so refer to that if interested.

Most of what is written here concerns health and safety concerns for the tribe. It seems that the Israelites had an unusual sense of what was going to become communicable and therefore could develop into a plague.

The last part of chapter is clear:
"'You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.'"

While reading these sections can be slow, they bring a reward of knowing how God protected the nation from infectious disease.

Peace

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Clean and Unclean

Today's readings are from Lev. 11, 12, 13

I hope you're hanging in there as we go through some of the toughest to read sections having to do with regulations on specific topics that relate to health. Reading these can see to be a task in "what is this all about". Well, let's keep it simple.
Simply put these things - for the most part - relate to issues of health, healthiness in relation to the nation traveling together in the desert.

The issues of clean and unclean are fascinating. Greg Boyd, a pastor and writer who I greatly respect, writing in his own blog recently, happen to write on this topic:

"I’ve always been a bit mystified over the distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals in the OT. I have read several attempts to justify this distinction on the grounds that the former were healthier — or at least less dangerous — to eat, but these defenses never struck me as all that convincing. In his recent book Is God a Moral Monster? (Baker, 2011), Paul Copan offers a much more compelling defense of this distinction (pages 79-84). One aspect of his argument I found particularly interesting was his contention that animals were considered “clean” because they reflect the original order of creation more perfectly than the “unclean” animals and “unclean” because they reflect the effects of the fall more than the “clean” animals.

The connection between the “clean” and “unclean” distinction, on the one hand, and the creation and fall, on the other, is reflected in the book of Leviticus by the repeated phrases “you may eat” and “you shall not eat” (Lev. 11:3, 9, 11, 21, 22) which, Copan argues, echo the provision and prohibition to Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 2:16; 3:2). This connection arguably explains why predators and animals that had been preyed on were prohibited (Ex 22:31; Lev. 17:14) for, according to the Genesis narrative, the original creation was non-carnivorous (Gen. 1:31). Even when humans were permitted to eat meat after the flood they had to first drain the blood out, for the blood was (and is?) considered sacred (Gen. 9:4). Hence, animals that prey on others and consume their blood are, to this degree, out of sync with God’s creational design.

What I find most significant is that this explanation of the “clean” and “unclean” distinction presupposes that nature has been significantly affected by the fall, as the Genesis narrative itself suggests (Gen. 3: 14-19) and other passages of Scripture confirm (e.g. Rom. 8: 19-22)..."
- Greg Boyd

I find the argument and analysis of clean and unclean interesting. It's important in the end to note that God gave these regulations to protect the health of the nation, and keep disease in check...a fight against the effects of the Fall.

Peace
Elliott


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Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Priesthood

Today's readings come from Lev. 8, 9, 10

Leviticus continues to develop the rituals around the Tabernacle worship. The first two chapters today describe the ordination of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood...a process that is elaborate in ritual and detail.

Chapter 10 recounts the death of Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's two eldest sons. They died after a decision to offer something of the incense in an inappropriate manner.
It seems very harsh for this to occur, yet it immediately makes clear that having the responsibilities of the priesthood also means they are dealing with God's holy character. To a modern it all seems difficult to understand; but then again we don't tend to think too seriously about the holiness of God, do we?


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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sacrificial Offerings

Today's readings come from Leviticus 5, 6, 7

The reading centers around the various offerings that are to be made. The last verses of chpt. 7 summarize them:

"These, then, are the regulations for the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the ordination offering and the fellowship offering, which the lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai in the Desert of Sinai on the day he commanded the Israelites to bring their offerings to the Lord."

It's not the easiest of passages to read as the regulations seem to merge into a series of difficult nuances. What's important is to realize that sin breaks fellowship with God and others, and that there was a means for restoration possible. While some sins are "unintentional", nevertheless, they were still real and had to be treated with a desire for restoration as much as the ones that were intentional.

God did not abandon his people to "do the best you can", knowing that the best they (and we) could do would only lead to destruction.

Ultimately all of this is set aside in favor of the sacrificial offering of Christ himself for the restoration of each of us.


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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Levitical Law, pt1

The scripture reading today is Leviticus 1, 2, 3, 4

For many Christians the Old Testament law is one of the hardest sections to get through. Filled with seemingly endless rules and regulations - most of which don't have any applicability to our faith today - make this section of scripture seem long and useless.

We know that "all scripture is given by God...for reproof, instruction..." says Paul to Timothy in the second letter, 3.16. So, there are jewels of truth in these laws, but it's like panning for gold in the river - it needs a careful eye and much perseverance.

In today's reading, just take note of the various kinds of offerings and note that God had concern for many different aspects of their fellowship, and sought to give them ways of assurance in seeking him and staying in fellowship with him. Hang in there, Leviticus is worth the time.

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