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Showing posts from February, 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 rem…

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…

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 prepa…

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.

B…

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…

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 b…

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&q…

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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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&qu…

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 …

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…

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 wan…

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 an…

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…

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 a…

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 …

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 po…

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 detail…

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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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 …

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 …

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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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…

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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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…

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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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 t…

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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