My daily exploration of the Bible, taking it one chapter at a time. If I do it everyday, it'll take 1189 days.



Saturday, April 30, 2005

Deuteronomy 12

One place of worship

Summary:
When they enter the land, they are to destroy all the other places of worship, because, once they settle in the land, God will choose one place to dwell, and all tithes and sacrifices are to be bought there.

However, they may kill animals in other places if it's just for food, but that can't eat the blood.

They are not to worship God in the same way the other nations worship their gods.

Key verse:
5. you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go

My thoughts:
As this text was probably written before Jerusalem was controlled by the Jews (due to the lack of its mention throughout the entire Torah), it is amazing how the future role of Jerusalem is described so accurately. Sacrifices weren't to be made anywhere - only at the temple, where God would choose to be on Mount Zion. This becomes a touchy issue between the two kingdoms of Israel, as one nation has no access to the temple, and so the northern kingdom believe they can perform temple cultus at Samaria. We can see this issue continuing through to Jesus' time when he speaks to the Samaritan woman in John 4. Understanding the jewish belief in one place of worship makes Jesus' statement all the more bold and revolutionary when he says "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:21ff).

God's mentioned approval of the killing and eating of animals outside of the chosen place shows a primitive tendency of the Jews not to differentiate between killing for eat and killing for worship. God makes this distinction here. He also approves the eating of meat, unlike some other religions.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Deuteronomy 11

The blessing and the curse

Summary:
Moses reminds the people of how God drowned Pharaoh's army, and how he dealt with Abiram and Dathan. He tells how good the land they are going to is, and that if they keep God's commands, then God will look after them. They must be careful to stay faithful, then God will increase their boundries.

A blessing and a curse are set before the people. The blessing is if they obey God's commands, the curse if they disobey. Red pill blue pill.

Key verse:
26. See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse

My thoughts:
Again Moses is expressing the importance of keeping the law, with reference to the great events which Israel has seen over the last forty years.

The ultimatum here is clear. Israel can go in two directions. They can obey God and be blessed, or they can disobey and be cursed. The rest of Israel's history can be seen in terms of their obedience and God's level of provision.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Deuteronomy 10

The new tablets

Summary:
Moses continues telling the end of the story of the golden calf, by telling of the new tablets which were made and put in the ark. He then goes on to mention the role of the Levites.

He then goes on to say amazing God is, that he looks after widows and orphans, and that we should fear him and follow his law.

Key verses:
14. To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.
16. Circumcise your hearts
18. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien

My thoughts:
Woah! Three key verse! I'm splurging out!

Just quickly, it seems to me that the mention of the roles of the Levites is a later addition, and would not have been part of Moses' original charge, because it says "as they still do today", which would be an odd comment for Moses himself to make. It also seems a bit out of context in this chapter.

So far Deuteronomy seems to be a summary of what has already happened. There is not a lot of new information, and there are a lot of rants about how the law should not be forgotten. It's all good, but it is often difficult to make new conclusions from.

I think the second half of this chapter contains some amazing statements about God. It shows him as the defender of the helpful, a title we are to fulfill also. It shows his supremacy over all things, from the highest heaven to earth. Though today this concept is obvious, at the time gods were often seen as lower than many parts of the universe itself. This God is set up very differently from all other gods of the area.

Here we also see what is often associated as a New Testament idea, the idea of circumcision of the heart. From the beginning, God is more concerned with what our heart is like rather than observance of rituals.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Deuteronomy 9

Not because of your righteousness

Summary:
They are about to enter the land, which is currently dwelt in by powerful peoples. Moses reminds the people that God is not destroying the nations before them because of Israel's righteousness, but because of the sin of the other nations.

Moses then elaborates on how sinful Israel has been, reminding them of how they made the golden calf, and telling them about how he begged God not to destroy Israel.

Key verse:
6. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

My thoughts:
Here it is said more explicitly that Israel do not deserve their inheritance, but that it is a gift of grace from God. Whether it is the old testament or the new, we have never been able to earn the gifts of God. They are always received by grace. Even Abraham was only accepted by faith, which had been credited to him as righteousness.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Deuteronomy 8

Remember the law

Summary:
Moses tells the people to remember God's commands, and to remember him when they enter the promised land and enjoy its abundance. He reminds them how God have looked after them as a father, giving them manna. He tells them that they will be destroyed like the other nations if they neglect God's commands.

Key verses:
3-5. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna ... Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

My thoughts:
Sometimes we just refuse to be disciplined. We expect God to give and give and give, but we don't realise that he is our father, and he must disciplines us too. As it says in Job, he gives, and he takes away. Here we have a specific example. God let his people go hungry, and gave them manna in his time, to discipline them. Of course the people moaned and complained when they were hungry, because they did not see what God, their father, was doing.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Deuteronomy 7

Show no mercy

Summary:
Moses tells the people to show no mercy to the people they are to take over when they enter Canaan. They are to not to intermarry with them, and they are not to follow their gods. Their altars are to be smashed.

Israel are reminded that they are taken by grace, not because they as a nation deserve it.

They are told that they will be greatly blessed if they follow God's commands.

When they are uncertain as to how they will conquer the nations of Canaan, they are reminded of how God brought them out of Egypt.

Key verse:
7. 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.

My thoughts:
The Jews themselves considered themselves 'saved' or taken by grace. They knew that they had done nothing as a nation, which particularly made them deserve to be chosen by God. God just chose them - they were taken by grace. They did have to keep the law to receive God's blessing and remain in his grace, but ultimately their fulfilment with God was not earned.

God says in no uncertain terms why they should show no mercy to the people of Canaan. If they show them mercy, then Israel will be pulled down by them, and that is unacceptable for God's people.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Deuteronomy 6

Don't forget the law

Summary:
Moses tells them to remember the law everyday, and to make sure they don't forget it.

They are to fear God, follow him alone, and they are not to test him.

When their children ask them what's the meaning of it all, they are to explain how God took them out of Egypt.

Key verse:
5. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

My thoughts:
This chapter presents many images of writing the law on their doors, and tying it to their hands and stuff. All of these images are to show how they are to make sure they do not forget the law. Everyday they should be reminded of how hey are to please God. Maybe this is still a good idea today, and we should write above our beds, and on the backs of our toilet doors 'I live to please God'. I dunno. Just an idea.

This chapter also gives us the greatest commandment, as quoted by Jesus, which I have put as the key verse. Whether we understand it or not, all the law is ultimately either to fulfil this commandment to love God, or the second commandment, which Jesus quotes, which is to love other people.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Deuteronomy 5

The ten commandments... again

Summary:
Moses declares the ten commandments.

1. You are to have one God
2. Idols are bad
3. Don't misuse God's name
4. Keep the Sabbath
5. Honour your parents
6. Don't kill
7. Don't do adultery
8. Don't steal
9. Don't be a false witness
10. Don't covet

Moses then retells what happened in his conversation with God when he got the ten commandments.

Key verse:
24. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him.

My thoughts:
This is the second of two occurences of the ten commandments. The first is in Exodus 20.

The key verse is important for the ongoing relationship of God with his people. God is supremely holy, yet as shown ultimately by the incarnation, God is willing to make himself low in order to build his relationship with us. And that is why a man can live even if God speaks with him.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Deuteronomy 4

Moses' charge to the people

Summary:
Moses tells all the people how important the law is, and that they all have to keep it. He tells them not to make idols, because God is a jealous God. Moses then reminds the people how good and unique their relationship with God is.

Three cities of refuges were set apart east of the Jordan.

Key verses:
24. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

35. You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other.

My thoughts:
This speech is a general introduction to the laws which follows. It basically presents two things - and argument as to why they should keep the law, and why they should not practice idolatory. I am told that idolatory is the most common theme in the Old Testament.

This chapter has many images of God as a fire, which becomes quite a common image for God. God is powerful, uncontrolable, and all-comsuming, just like fire.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Deuteronomy 3

Old man still talking...

Summary:
Moses continues retelling the story:

The Israelites womped Og, King of Bashan, and took his land. He had a six feet wide, thirteen feet long bed. The Reubenites, the Gadites, and those of the half-tribe of Manasseh took their inheritance on the east of the Jordan, but their fighting men could not settle down until all of the land was taken.

Moses was not allowed by God to cross the Jordan. He pleaded, but God said no. God told him to go up a hill to see the land which he would not enter. God told him to anoint Joshua to lead his people.

Key verse:
24. what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?

My thoughts:
Moses tried to suck up to God so that he could cross the Jordan. It didn't work. God doesn't change his mind, just because we can use nice words sometimes.

What's the point in having a bed which is twice as long as you? I guess it'd make tops-and-tails easier.

My Bit:
The next day or two might be late, because I'm having surgery. I know I normally do things like this in advance... but oh well. I'll be caught up by Monday.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Deuteronomy 2

Shhhhh.... old man talking....

Summary:
Moses continues his story of how they got to where they are.

So the Israelites wandered around, and then went up through the land of Esau peacefully. They also passed through the land of the Ammonites and the Moabite peacefully. By now all of the first generation had passed away.

Then they came to the land of Sihon, King od Heshbon. God told them to take his land and womp him. So they did, and took a bunch of land, but didn't touch the Moabites for Ammonites

Key verse:
19. do not harass them or provoke them to war

My thoughts:
It can be easy to see God as violent in this part of the Old Testament, but here we see that God is following a clear plan. The plan involves womping some peoples, but being friendly to others. We can see that God, and subsequently his people Israel, are not innately violent, because they are very strict on the peace they keep with some peoples. However, when defeating a land is part of the plan, they are complete in what they do.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Deuteronomy 1

Moses summarises

Summary:

Moses tells the story of some of their time in the desert:

At Mount Horeb, God told them to go up into the promised land. Moses appointed judges to help him. They then went towards the Amorite's land. They sent spies forward, who saw the land was good. The people complained because they were scared of the people in Canaan. Because they didn't trust God, God made it so that no-one of that generation, except Caleb and Joshua, would enter the promised land. God told them to turn back. However, some Israelites decided to take matters into their own hands at attack the Amorites. They were womped, because God wasn't with them.

Key verse:
31. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son

My thoughts:
Here Moses is retelling events we already know. It is a helpful clear summary of events to help understand a narrative.

Here God is compared to a father in the way in which he carries us. The notion of God as not only a patriarchal father-figure, but as an intimate abba who carries his children is clear throughout the whole Bible, not just the New Testament. Other monotheistic religions, such as Islam reject the father role of God (Surah 5:18). None of their 99 names for God refer to him as Father.

The fatherhood nature of the supreme God is unique to Yahweh, and it shows God's desire for an intimate relationship with us.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Numbers 36

Zelophehad's daughters... again

Summary:
The tribesmen of Manasseh are concerned that Zelophehad's daughters, being heiresses of their father, could marry outside of Manasseh, and thus cause their inherited land to cross to a different tribe, in a way which would not be reconciled at the Year of Jubilee.

Moses decides, therefore, they they cannot marry outside of Manasseh, because there is to be no land swapping between tribes.

Key verse:
9. No inheritance may pass from tribe to tribe, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits.

My thoughts:
God was serious with his intentions for the Year of Jubilee. In the long run, no family, clan, or tribe should be more advantaged than any other. Even this triviality needed to be ironed out to retain God's long term vision.

Well, that ends Numbers. On to Deuteronomy, and the end of the Torah.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Numbers 35

Towns of refuge

Summary:
The Levites are to get 48 towns throughout Israel as their inheritance. Six of these are to be cities of refuge where people can flee to if they accidentally killed someone. They are to be kept safe there until they can come before fair trial. Anyone who kills intentionally is to be sentenced to death.

Key verse:
34. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.

My thoughts:
Again the distinction is made between intentional sin and unintentional sin. Intentional sin, as always, was inexcusable and was punishable by death. However, in a society where people would often take the law into their own hands, God provided places where accidental killers could flee to, so they could avoid the family of the person they killed, and can wait for a fair trial.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Numbers 34

Boundries and inheritances

Summary:
God tells Moses that the Israelite's land is to go from the Mediterranean Sea, down to the deserts at the south, and encompassing the area of Palestine to the east and north.

The inheritance for each tribe is to be organised by Joshua and Eleazar. There is to be a helper from each tribe. Caleb was the helper for Judah.

Key verse:
12. This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side.

My thoughts:
Under its kings, Israel later extended it's boundries beyond God's original plan, which shows how Israel became ruled by personal ambition, rather than God's will.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Numbers 33

Stages of the journey through the desert

Summary:
These were some of the main places where the Israelites staying through the desert:

Succoth, where they first went to after leaving Egypt
Elim, where there were springs and palm trees
Desert of Sin
Desert of Sinai
Kadesh
Mount Hor, where Aaron died
Plains of Moab

On the plains of Moab, God told Moses to drive out all the people on the other side of the Jordan or else they will become a major problem later. They are to settle the land, with larger tribes getting more land than the smaller tribes.

Key verse:
55. 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.

My thoughts:
Today's key verse ties into what I wrote the other day about why God commanded his people to ruthlessly get rid of all people. He shows his insight into the future, knowing that keeping the Canaanites around is a bad idea. It's up to us to trust him.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Numbers 32

East of the Jordan

Summary:
The Reubenites and the Gadites tell Moses they want their inheritance to be east of the Jordan, where the Israelites currently are. Moses gets annoyed that they aren't going to support Israel in taking over the land west of the Jordan. But they explain that they will go and help take over the west, and only when all tribes have taken over their inheritance will they return to their homes east of the Jordan. Moses is happy with this.

So the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had land east of Jordan, and they rebuilt cities and renamed them. The clan of Makir (son of Manasseh) captured Gilead, so they had that.

Key verse:
18. We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance.

My thoughts:
The Israelites are getting closer to the land promised to them, and they are starting to receive their land and settle. It will be a long time until the land is completely settled. Jerusalem itself will not be taken until King David turns up.

The Reubenites and Gadites are fair in their desire for land. They prove themselves faithful by being willing to leave their families and go to war for the sake of their brothers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Numbers 31

War on Midianites

Summary:
God tells Moses to go and destroy the Midianites with a thousand men from each tribe before he dies. So they set out, and Phinehas, Eleazar's son, took with them the articles of the sanctuary.

So they womped the Midianites, killing every man, including their five kings, and Balaam. They took the woman and children and animals for themself.

When they came back, Moses was angry that they had allowed the women and children to live, seeing as the women were the cause of so much grief for Israel previously. So Moses ordered that they are all killed, except for the female virgins.

All soldiers who had killed/touched dead bodies had to go through ritual cleansing.

Half of the spoils went to the soldiers, and half went to the other Israelites. One of every five hundred of the soldier's share when to the temple, and on of every fifty of the people's share went to the Levites.

There were 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys, and 32,000 women as spoils.

The army noticed that not a single Israelite had been lost, so they presented heapsa gold as an offering to God.

Key verse:
2. Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.

My thoughts:
This is quite a difficult chapter to reconcile for two main reasons. One, the Israelites kill everyone, including women and children. Two, the only people that keep alive are virgins, which they take like animals.

It's hard to give a hard and fast answer as to why this might be justifiable. It's important to note that Judaism, unlike Christianity, wasn't just a faith movement, but was, in fact, a nation. And like all other nations of the time, without exception, they went to war. The particular brutality of this war could be because of the importance of getting the promised land in God's greater plan for humanity. All references to the Israelites killing everyone in war are when they are taking over the promised land. Once they have that land, they are comdemned for their violence.

You could also argue that taking the virgins was not God's intention. It was Moses who said it, not God, and Moses isn't perfect.

Obviously, the issue of war in the Old Testament is a huge one, and it is hard to find a definite answer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Numbers 30

Vows

Summary:
If a man makes a vow, he must keep it.

If a woman makes a vow, she must keep it, unless her father or her husband forbids it when they firtst hear of it. Her husband is to either confirm or nullify the vow, and silence (as a lack of nuffilification) is an indication of confirmation.

A widow or divorced woman must keep her vow.

Key verse:
2. he must not break his word but must do everything he said

My thoughts:
Vows and oaths and swearing by things are not preferred by God. But when someone does make an oath or vow, they are expected by God to keep it. Unkept promises can cause large amounts of grief, and so God recommends that we avoid promises altogether.

In the Jewish culture, the closest male to a woman also has the power to nullify a vow if it is inappropriate or against the best interests of the family.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Numbers 29

Yet more special offerings

Summary:
On the feast of trumpets, a bull, a ram and seven lambs are to be sacrificed with their appropriate drink and grain offerings.

The same animals are to be sacrificed on the day of atonement, along with a male goat for sin, and the normal sacrifices.

On the feast of tabernacles, there are to be special sacrifices each day for seven days. On the first day, 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, and one male goat for sin are to be sacrificed. Each following day is to be the same, but with one less bull. On the eighth day, one ram, one bull, and seven lambs are to be sacrificed.

Key verse:
39. In addition to what you vow and your freewill offerings, prepare these for the Lord at your appointed feasts: your burnt offerings, grain offerings, drink offerings and fellowship offerings.

My thoughts:
That's a lot of beef!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Numbers 28

Various offerings

Summary:
Each day, one lamb is to be burnt in the morning, and one at twilight. They are to be accompanied with grain and drink offerings.

On the Sabbath, an extra two lambs are to be burnt.

On the first day of each month, two bulls, a ram, and 7 lambs are to be burnt, with their appropriate grain and drink offerings. A goat is to be sacrificed for sin aswell.

On the passover and on the fesitval of weeks, burnt offerings like that of the first day of the month is to be made.

Key verse:
31. Be sure the animals are without defect.

My thoughts:
Just as Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, was without defect, in the same way, these pre-Jesus reflections of Jesus were to be without defect.

These sacrifices are simply general appeasement of God, showing that they were obedient to God's command.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Numbers 27

Moses' successor

Summary:
A man, Zelophehad, died leaving no sons. His daughters complain saying their father's inheritance should not leave their family just because their father had no sons. Moses agrees and orders that if a man has no sons, his inheritance is to go to his daughters. If he has no daughters, then it is to go to the next closest relative, but it is to stay within the family.

God reminds Moses that he will die like his brother Aaron for his sins at Meribah. Moses says that then there should be someone to lead the people after he is gone. God chooses Joshua, and he is commissioned by Eleazar laying his hands on him.

Key verse:
18. Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him.

My thoughts:
This chapter (plus the fact that I just got bored of it) made me stop reading the CEV (Contemporary English Version) of the Bible as my main Bible. Instead of saying that "Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit", it just says "Joshua son of Nun can do the job". I feel that this is pointlessly despiritualising the original text. I realise that other versions of the Bible, like the Message, may have bigger differences, but I feel that, unlike the CEV, the setup of the Message does not falsely imply that you are reading an accurate representation of the original Bible.

I find it interesting that hands are laid on Joshua for his commissioning as leader. This is very similar to charismatic Christian practice.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Numbers 26

Another census

Summary:
God tells Moses and Eleazar to take another census of men over twenty. These were the numbers:

Reuben 43,730
(Reuben's son Pallu was the ancestor of Dathan and Abiram who rebelled with Korah.)
Simeon 22,200
Gad 40,500
Judah 76,500
(Perez was Judah's son, and Hezron was Perez's son)
Issachar 64,300
Zebulun 60,500
Manasseh 52,700
Ephraim 32,500
Benjamin 45,600
Dan 64,400
Asher 53,400
Naphtali 45,400

There were 601,730 men over twenty in total.

Each tribe would get land according to how many people were in the tribe. The Levites, who numbered 23,000 (for males over one month old) got no land. Levi's son, Kohath was the ancestor of Amram, who married Jochebed, the mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

No one on the new census was on the old census (taken at Sinai) except Caleb and Joshua. All the men from the original census died, as God had said.

Key verse:
4. Take a census of the men twenty years old or more

My thoughts:
One of the points of this census was to show that God's word that no-one in the first generation would live to see the promised land came true.

Interestingly, the total number of men over twenty has dropped slightly. Because of their sin, the abundant growth and blessing they enjoyed whilst in Egypt did not continue into the wilderness.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Numbers 25

Those gorgeous Moabites...

Summary:
While they are staying at Shittim, some of the Israelites have relations with the Moabite women, and start worshipping their gods. God sends a plague amongst the Israelites.

Moses, on God's command, tells the judges to kill all people who were involved in this deviation.

Then a guy called Zimri brings home a Midianite women, Cozbi. But then, Phinehas, Aaron's grandson, gets a spear and throws it through the both of them in one throw. Woah...

The plague stops, and God is happier.

The Midianites are to be treated like enemies.

Key verse:
11. [Phinehas] was as zealous as I [God] am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them.

My thoughts:
Sometimes it seems unfair that God commands his people not to marry/have relations with foreigners, but we see here that the worship of other gods comes as a direct result of these relations. God's command has little to do with dispising other nations, and everything to do with keeping his people, Israel, within the faith.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Numbers 24

More oracles of Balaam

Summary:
This time, the Spirit of God came on Balaam, when he had an oracle about Israel. The oracle said how amazing Israel was. Balak had had enough, and told Balaam to stop, and that he wouldn't give him a reward. This didn't worry Balaam, and in fact, just in case Balak hadn't heard enough of it, Balaam had another oracle. This oracle was about a ruler who would come from Israel who would conquer the surrounding nations. He had other oracles about the destruction of Amalek, the Kenites, and the ships from Kittim.

Key verse:
17. 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.

My thoughts:
I love Messianic prophesy in the Torah. It shows that God's plan for a Messiah existed right at the very beginning of what God was doing with the world. However, it must be said that this prophecy of someone "not now" and "not near" seems to fit King David better than directly to Jesus. However, given the symbolism of the Messiah in the line of David, it would be foolish not to retrospectively recognise this passage as being ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. It also raises the thought of David himself as a Messiah.

Interestingly, Balaam, a Gentile, is here filled with the Spirit of God. As far as I know, he is the only Gentile to be filled with the Spirit of God before Pentecost. Can anyone else think of any other examples.

I would even go as far as to say that this chapter demonstrates God's desire to bring a Messiah, and also to pour out his Spirit on all people. Both of these, for the Christian, are ultimately fulfilled in the New Testament.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Numbers 23

Hey... that ain't no curse...

Summary:
Balak took Balaam to a hill, from where he was to curse Israel. They built seven altars, and offered a ram and a bull on each. Balaam then went away for a bit, and came back with a oracle. The oracle was that Israel was blessed, and that Balaam could not go against God's word. Balak was like 'that's not a curse!', so they went to another hill.

On this hill, they again did some sacrifices, and then Balaam's oracle was basically "I've already told you what God said... he ain't about to change his mind just cos I'm on this new hill."

So they went to yet another hill, and did some more sacrifices.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Key verse:
19. God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.

My thoughts:
Interesting that God rejects the title, which Jesus
so often placed upon himself. The title 'son of man' is an often confused one. The Hebrew for it is ben 'adam. ben means 'son of', and 'adam is the term 'mankind' (as opposed to a specific man). Son of man in it's purest form simply means a human male. However, it obviously connotes a different status later on. Ezekiel the prophet refers to himself as a son of man. It is not, however, a clear statement of deity as some people would reason.

I find it interesting that Balaam, a foreign polygamist, uses seven altars. The number seven is sacred to Jews and Bungie fans alike, symbolising perfection. The fact that Balaam, a non-Jew, uses this number implies either a more universal agreement on spirituality in the ancient Near East than we might expect, or that the author of Numbers was happy to change figures to fit with Jewish religious symbolism.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Numbers 22

Sweet talkin' donkeys

Summary:
Israel moved up to the plains of Moab, on the other side of the Jordan.

Balak, king of Moab, heard about them, and was afraid. He sent men to go to a diviner Balaam, and to get Balaam to curse Israel. When the men first came to Balaam, he didn't go with them, because God told him not to curse Israel. So Balak sent more men. This time God allowed Balaam to go, but only to say what God told him.

On the way to the king, Balaam's donkey stopped randomly three times, and Balaam beat it. It was because the donkey could see an angel with a sword in the way of the path, which Balaam couldn't see. Then God allowed the donkey to talk, and the donkey complained about being beaten. Then Balaam suddenly could see the angel, and was afraid. He said he would turn back if God wanted, but the angel reminded him only to say what God tells him.

Balaam came to Balak, and they went up a hill where they could see all of Israel.

Key verses:
18. Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God.

30. Am I not your own donkey

My thoughts:
Balaam is a realist. He is not influenced by money. He can only speak what he hears God saying, and will not do anything else. He is so obedient. I think we can learn from this. So often we feel that we have to make things up to please people, but really we should just say what God says, and ignore popularity or other benefits.

I find it bizarre that Balaam gets a reputation as a bit of a baddie throughout the Bible. To me, though he is a diviner, he seems to be a person who honestly heard God, followed him, was not corrupted with wealth, and recognised the blessing God had on Israel. I guess he is a donkey-beater. The SPCA wouldn't be pleased.

As far as I know, this is the only time an animal speaks in real narrative in the Bible, other than in the creation story.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Numbers 21

War and snakes

Summary:
The king of Arad captured some Israelites, and so the Israelites womped Arad, with the help of God.

The people started complaining again, so God sent poisonous snakes among them. When they cried for help to Moses, he made a bronze snake under God's instruction. All who looked at the snake were healed of the poison.

Israel moved out from Mount Hor through many places, including Arnon, and Beer, where they got water, which they sang about (with a name like Beer that, I'd be disappointed with water...). They ended up at the valley in Moab.

The Israelites asked if they could pass through Sihon king of the Amorites' land. He said no, so Israel womped his land. Then Og, some other king, brought his army before Israel, but Israel womped him and took his land.

Key verse:
34. Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you

My thoughts:
The bronze snake of Moses eventually was used as an idol, and so it had to be taken down. So often we take something that God has given to be good, and pervert it. Take sex for example.

In this chapter there is a quote from the "Book of the Wars of the Lord". This ancient Jewish text is unfound, and this quote is the only part of the book, which we have. It probably contained a lot of poetry and songs. If you find this book let me know.

This chapter contains a lot of songs and poetry, often about military success. These songs and poems would be learnt by people to rejoice at their victory, but also to preserve the history.

This is a truimphant chapter of Israel's victories against her opponents. However, as the key verse shows, the roel of God in these victories is made clear.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Numbers 20

Death, politics and water

Summary:
The people camp at Kadesh. There Miriam, Moses' sister, dies.

The people complain that there is no water, so God tells Moses and Aaron to go to a rock at Meribah and speak to it, making water miraculously come out of it. But Moses instead struck the rock with his staff, and water came out. For not trusting God, God made it clear that neither Moses or Aaron would enter the promised land themselves.

Moses then asked the king of Edom if they could peacefully and quickly pass through their land, but Edom said no (twice). So Israel turned away from them.

The people then went to Mount Hor, where Aaron died, and the people mourned for thirty days. his son Eleazar took his place.

Key verse:
12. you did not trust in me

My thoughts:
So often we think we're just a little bit smarter than God. He tells us something, and we just have to go one better. This is what Moses does here. God says speak to the rock (requiring more faith), and Moses goes one better by striking it. But he disobeyed God. He didn't have enough faith, and for that, he cannot now enter the promised land.

The use of the spoken word in the Bible is quite interesting. Something spoken is seen as an almost tangible thing, which is separate from the person who speaks it, and it can carry power. The Hebrew word for 'word' is the same word as for 'thing'. In Genesis we see the Word of God creating light when he says "Let there be light". In Ezekiel 37, God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones to bring them to life. Jesus is the living Word. In this chapter we have God asking Moses to use his word to make water. But Moses doesn't trust God enough.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Numbers 19

Water for cleansing

Summary:
A heifer is to be sacrificed, and it's blood sprinkled. It is then burnt, and then some wood, hyssop and wool is to be put on the fire. The ashes are to be gathered and taken outside of the camp. These ashes are used for making the water used for purification, by putting the ashes in a jar, then putting fresh water on top of it.

All people involved in the ceremony are unclean until evening including the priest, who in this instance was Eleazar.

If anyone touches a dead body, or goes into a tent with a dead body in it, then they are unclean for seven days. They are to be cleansed with the water by a clean person on the third and seventh days, by having the water sprinkled on them. The man who sprinkles needs to wash his clothes afterwards.

Key verse:
22. Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.

My thoughts:
The key verse for today (and others like it) caused many arguments between the Sadducees and the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. Consider, for example, a clean cup pouring water into an unclean cup. They would argue about trivial things such as whether the clean cup would be made unclean through the stream of water which would touch both cups at the same time. This was their concern for purity. Obviously they missed the point.

Interestingly it is not the high priest who performs the ceremony to create the ashes for the water. Perhaps this is because the ceremony causes the priest to become unclean, and the high priest is not to become unclean.