Monthly Archives: September 2014

Numbers 9

It doesn’t distinctly say in the text, but the Israelites finally take off on their journey. This starts with a celebration of the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. So they spent that first year preparing and organizing how God’s presence would be mediated through the sacrificial system, and it is fitting the Passover is celebrated right before they take off, just as they did it in Egypt.

In their journey God guides them through a cloud that covers the Tent of Testimony. At night it looks like fire, which is appropriate because God is light, and is our light, their light. As John says, in Jesus was life and that life was the light of men, and that light shines in the darkness. When the cloud covers the tent, they are to stay put, and when it lifted they set out; wherever it settled they encamped. This could be for just a night, or a day, week, month or year. However God directed, they followed.

Since the Tent has to be dismantled and rebuilt every time they moved and stopped, the cloud must have come down where they were to encamp and then once it was rebuilt the cloud remained on it. As it says in the final verse:

23 At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.

Everything the Lord communicates to the Israelites comes through Moses, who clearly is a type of Christ. And God is leading them through the desert to get to the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. All they need do is follow him, not unlike God leading us through the desert of a fallen world, to the ultimate eternal promised land. All we need to do is follow him. The path is laid out for all to see, and for his chosen to take. As it says in Hebrews 7:25, that most Old Testament of New Testament books:

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Numbers 8

In chapter 3 we learn that the Levites will be set apart to serve at the Tent of Meeting to do the work of the tabernacle. In this chapter they are set apart and purified for service with the requisite sacrifices. This applies to all Levite men ages 25 to 50; before and after that they are no eligible to serve in this capacity.

The Lord said something in both chapter three and here about the Levites being given wholly to him in place off the firstborn male because every firstborn male belongs to the Lord. The reason for this is that when he struck down every firstborn in Egypt, he set apart every firstborn male, whether man or animal, as his. I wasn’t clear why this should be, so I went back to the story of the event itself. After the Passover when all the firstborn of Egypt were struck down, the Lord told Moses to consecrate the firstborn to him, and he tells us the reason why:

14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

So it all goes back to the promise, the covenant, and continually reminding Israel that he is their savior, that he took them out of slavery, and made for himself a people to be unique in the world, whose God is the Lord. There is no fluff in the Bible; everything points to something, and the ultimate thing is God’s plan and working out of redemption culminating in the death, burial, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the “firstborn over all creation,” as Paul says in Col. 1.

Numbers 7

Finally the altar is ready to be dedicated, and what an affair it is! For 12 days a man from each tribe bring offerings, and for each one it is exactly the same:

13 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 14 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 15 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 16 one male goat for a sin offering; 17 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering.

So we see again, this is a bloody affair. Multiply this by 12. But again, the wages of sin is death, and the penalty must be paid, either by each sinner, or something, or someone, in their place. The chapter ends with God speaking to Moses:

89 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.

I suppose this has some significance, the specific way the Lord spoke to Moses, but I’m not sure what that would be. One commentator said that this was the new way the Lord would communicate with Moses, and for the next forty years as they wandered in the wilderness. Another commentator says this:

The last thing I want to point out is that Moses hears a voice speaking from above the atonement piece on the ark of the covenant, which shows it to be kind of like a divine throne for the LORD, seated between the two cherubim.  I talked about this before when discussing the construction of the ark in Ex 25, but verse 89 confirms this idea.

So God the King is going with Israel on its journey, and Moses approaches him as such. I think this goes back to the covenant promise God made with Abraham as a King when the fire pot when through the animal pieces in Gen. 15. God will keep his promise.

Numbers 6

This chapters tells us about people, men or women, who are willing to make a special vow of separation to the Lord called Nazarites. The word means to be separated or consecrated, and it was done voluntarily. There were specific commands for how this should be done, and it was for a limited time. There are a few instanced in scripture where it was a lifetime vow, but that was the exception not the rule. These people were allowed no alcohol, not even eating or touching of grapes. They were not to cut their hair, or allowed anywhere near dead people.

What to make of this “law of the Nazarite” as God calls it. I think it is very interesting that God lays out the possibility for radical separation as being voluntary and limited in time and scope. Monastic vows and any radical separation are not required of us or normal. Real life is normal, and we can be holy and separate in that. And notice that alcohol is part of normal, real life. God himself, as we see with Jesus is not a teetotaler. One does not need to be a Nazarite to be consecrated to God, but it’s probably a good idea to be Nazarite for a time so one’s focus is on God alone, not the rigors and demands of normal life. I should try it. Knowing me I couldn’t do it for very long.

The end of this chapter has what is called the priestly blessing:

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

24 “‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

When a pastor or preacher gives a benediction after a service, this is where it all started. How incredible is it that God wants to bless us! He wants to keep us. He wants to be gracious to us. He wants to give us peace. The Israelites will be identified by the name of God, an identity unique in all the world, an identity that completely sets them apart from all the peoples that surround them, and all the peoples of the world. And this totally of God’s own initiative; he chose a people to make them his own. This blessing does not come out of the blue, but proceeds from all that came before. God granting his name to his people is the result of the redemptive economy that God established. This is a perfect analogy to we who bear the name of Christ, all initiated and accomplished by God himself. Otherwise we would be hopeless.

Numbers 5

Most of this chapter is about unfaithful wives, or those suspected of being unfaithful, and what to do about them. The first question that comes to anyone looking back several thousand years is what about the husband? What if he is unfaithful? Isn’t that really more likely given human nature? Why does God here single out an entire chapter of scripture to single out women? Of course skeptics judge scripture based on their modern assumptions which largely come from 2000 years of Christian influence in Western culture. Most of them had no idea what the ancient world was like, or what cultural customs and values drove the people of that day. I found this explanation:

29. This is the law of jealousies–Adultery discovered and proved was punished with death. But strongly suspected cases would occur, and this law made provision for the conviction of the guilty person. It was, however, not a trial conducted according to the forms of judicial process, but an ordeal through which a suspected adulteress was made to go–the ceremony being of that terrifying nature, that, on the known principles of human nature, guilt or innocence could not fail to appear. From the earliest times, the jealousy of Eastern people has established ordeals for the detection and punishment of suspected unchastity in wives. The practice was deep-rooted as well as universal. And it has been thought, that the Israelites being strongly biassed in favor of such usages, this law of jealousies “was incorporated among the other institutions of the Mosaic economy, in order to free it from the idolatrous rites which the heathens had blended with it.” Viewed in this light, its sanction by divine authority in a corrected and improved form exhibits a proof at once of the wisdom and condescension of God.

So even if it seems a bit misogynistic to us, God is actually taking the customs of the day and protecting the woman who is not actually guilty. She cannot be condemned on the word of her husband just because he suspects something. God is actually beginning to build the foundation of human rights, which can only be culminated in Christ. As Paul says in Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This radical conception, utterly unique in all of human history to that point, was started long before Jesus, but it took Jesus and Christianity’s ethics seeping into Western culture to get to a point where women could actually be treated as equals. In fact in took over 2000 years after Christ!

Keep in mind there is no double standard in God’s law for punishment for sexual sin. Deuteronomy 22:22 says:

If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

Any double standards were strictly human invention, and it took Jesus to finally wipe those out in the West.

Numbers 4

The Lord in this chapter gives Moses and Aaron instructions on how the various Levite clans are to work with the Tent of Meeting. They count men from 30 to 50 years of age for each of the clans, and the total number is 8,580. This gives us some sense of the magnitude of the job of caring for God’s dwelling place, of moving it all over the desert as they will have to do. And for God, no detail is too small. He has very specific instructions about everything, as we’ve seen and continue to see.

From our vantage point 2000 years after Christ, we can see why this might be. The burden on sinful human beings to maintain a relationship with the holy God was immense. Several times in this chapter, as we’ve seen over and over again, one wrong move by a Levite getting too close to God’s presence and he will die. Now, we come to God and worship him in spirit and truth, and Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by him. We have only to believe, to trust, and we are accepted as sons and daughters, beloved by the Father.

People who think it unreasonable that Jesus would be the only way to the Father have clearly never read or really reflected on the OT redemptive economy. God makes it very clear, over and over and over again, that the way to him can only be done in certain, very specific ways. The consequences of not paying attention, or of flouting his instructions is certain death. The message is obvious, and there is no doubting the writers of the NT understood this. As Peter says in Acts 4:12:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

This makes perfect and reasonable sense in light of God’s dealings with Israel, and everything in the Pentateuch. Any kind of universalism, i.e. everyone will be saved eventually, makes absolutely no sense in light of God’s dealing with Israel we see here in the desert of Sinai. And Jesus was very clear about God’s wrath and judgment, and the reality of Hell. In Numbers God continues to teach us that HE determines the way to him, what is acceptable, right and true, what is necessary and even possible given our sin and his holiness. Amazing stuff.

Numbers 3

IMG_0361[1]This being Numbers, obviously a very good name for this book, we now get to see how God sets up the Levites to care for the Tent of Meeting and the tabernacle, and how many of them there are. It actually starts out as being the account of the family of Aaron and Moses, but it doesn’t say anything about Moses’ family. Aaron had four sons, two were killed for making an offering with “unauthorized fire” as we saw previously, so only two were left to assist him. Thus they need help, and God enlists the Levites to do that.

God commands that the Levite males a month old or more are counted, and there ended up being 22,000. These are given over to Aaron to manage the sanctuary; anyone else who approaches it must be put to death. Over and over again in the Pentateuch God establishes not only his authority (he states, “I am the Lord” three times just in this chapter alone) but his unapproachable utterly holy nature, that he is wholly other, the Creator, the ultimate source of all things, the ruler and King of the universe. We can only get a small glimpse of his greatness and holiness, but he has revealed those to us. Like the incredibly glorious sunset I saw yesterday. The beauty and magnificence of it blew me away, and I thought that this is only a very small reflection of God’s glory, and it inspires awe. Imagine the real thing! The source of all beauty, goodness and truth!

There are three clans of Levites who are to camp on the north, south and west, and Moses, Aaron and his sons camp on the east side, toward the “sunrise,” which was in front of the Tent of Meeting. I’m sure it was not a coincidence that the entrance was always facing east and that sunrise is mentioned in the text. The ultimate Son, the light of the world, that was to come would give all men the ability to enter in him to the temple and the holy of holies; we see the fulfillment when the curtain at his death is ripped in two, as Jesus said, “It is finished.”

I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis in The Reason for God by Tim Keller:

Lewis believes in God “as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

So as the sun rises on the Israelites light is shed on the way to God, the tabernacle, its entrance to the most holy place made open to us once for all we now see by Jesus Christ.