February 20th

Numbers 33-34

  • 33: 1-41— This is a summary of the whole journey- originally this book wasn’t written down, but passed down orally. We often think of oral traditions as being unreliable ways of conveying information (ever play the telephone game in school?), but in reality ancient cultures were exceptionally skilled at passing down information without writing it: several legends told by the native Australians have accurately recorded a rise in sea levels that isolated Australia from the Indonesian islands over 10,000 years ago. Repetitive summaries like this chapter are one of the ways they helped ensure the continued accuracy of the story
  • 33:50-56—These verses are important for understanding the Book of Joshua- note that God doesn’t command the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites (descriptions of such exterminations in later books are narrative hyperbole) but to drive them out– to clear them out of the land, and to dismantle their culture. This still seems harsh and unfair, but the Canaanites were radically evil- in addition to rampant sexual immorality, they practiced child sacrifice as one of their principle forms of worship. God commands the end of their culture because: a) He doesn’t want the Israelites to be influenced by their practices, especially since they’ve already shown that they’re easily influenced by other cultures, and b) God simply wants to rid the world of their evil.
  • By not ordering the complete extermination of the Canaanites, God is actually showing mercy- if the Israelites can dislodge them from the homes and dismantle their culture they might have a chance at redemption.
  • 34:1-15— For much of Israel’s history they will not hold all of this territory- the amount of land within these God-given boundaries that Israel actually controls will always be directly related to how faithfully they are upholding their covenant with God. During the reigns of David and Solomon, they actually exceed these boundaries in some places.

February 19th

Numbers 31-32

  • 31:13-24— Killing the women and male children seems extremely harsh, but the Israelites were always tempted to mix with other nations when they weren’t completely wiped out. Moses reminds them of their indiscretions in Peor caused by their unwillingness to follow God’s commands completely.
  • Chapter 32— Moses sniffs out the fear of the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad. They do not want to go to war to inherit the land God has promised to them. Eventually they come to a compromise where they will still fight, but leave their children and livestock behind.

What to expect this week

We finish Numbers and start Deuteronomy.

The word Deuteronomy comes from a Greek word that means “second law”; this is because Deuteronomy restates much of the Law written in Leviticus. This book is Moses’ last sermon to Israel- it’s his final public address as their leader.

Moses will die before the Israelites enter the Promised Land, and he knows it. Still, he’s spent over forty years leading these people and during that time he hasn’t been merely their political leader- he’s served as the mediator of God’s will for Israel. God has communicated to Israel through Moses, and Moses has been responsible for teaching Israel how to live in accordance with God’s will. Now, they will finally enter the Promised Land, and Moses won’t be with them. He must have felt the way so many parents feel when their children leave to go live on their own; as you read Deuteronomy, try to put yourself in Moses’ shoes and see this book as he saw it.

February 18th

Numbers 28-30

  • Most of us tend to read through the explanations of offerings simply to get through that section. Today, try reading it as if you were an Israelite who actually needed to know the details in order to follow God’s law.
  • Burnt offerings are often followed with a description that it has a “pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Since we no longer offer burnt offerings, what do you think we offer that presents God with a pleasing aroma?
  • Considering the quantities of the feast that starts in 29:1212, the Israelites must have had massive herds.

February 17th

Numbers 25-27

  • 25:1-5 – God takes idolatry and worship of other gods very seriously. Israel’s continues disobedience and lack of faithfulness is truly astounding at this point- it seems incomprehensible that they could continue to make the same mistake so many times even when they know what the consequences are- and yet that’s a constant theme in human behavior.
  • 25: 9 – A plague killing 24,000 people seems harsh, but God’s plan was to set the Israelites apart. When they intermixed with other nations, they often fell to the temptation of worshipping other gods. Clearly this Israelite who took the Midianite woman did so without regard to the congregation and interfered with worship in doing so.
  • Chapter 26– The Israelites were meticulous with their record keeping
  • 27:1-11 – All inheritance was passed down through male offspring until this story. This was probably shocking to the Israelites because women were seen as property, not landowners.
  • 27: 17 – In Matthew, Jesus looks at the people of Israel and has compassion on them describing them then too as “sheep without a shepherd.”
  • 27:18– Joshua becomes Moses successor. He also becomes the first official judge of Israel

February 16th

Numbers 22-24

  • Balaam consistently goes to the Lord for guidance before taking any action. He makes a powerful statement in vs. 18, “Though Balak were to give me his house of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more.”
  • 22:22 – It is confusing why God gets angry about Balaam going with the princes of Balak because God gave him permission. God’s permission, however, was to only do what God told him to do. Balaam may have acted in a way at some point that was not pleasing to God.
  • 22:23-35—I want that donkey; who wouldn’t want a talking donkey? Also, I love that the angel’s first words are essentially “Hey, idiot, why were you hitting that donkey?” as if it’s totally normal for a man’s talking donkey to be able to see supernatural beings that are invisible to the rest of us.
  • Balak continues to push Balaam to bend to his will instead of God’s. Balaam’s response is continually, “All that the Lord says, that I must do.”
  • 24: 3-9 – Through Balaam’s obedience to God, he is blessed with a greater understanding and insight to God’s plan, provision, and protection for the Israelites. He expresses this in this oracle

February 15th

Numbers 19-21

  • 19: 1-19 – Here we see something sacrificed being used later to cleanse and restore an unclean tent. Always remember- we think this stuff is kind of gruesome, but the people in these stories would have slaughtered animals, or at least would have seen someone else slaughter animals, literally every day. For them there’s nothing gruesome or unpleasant about it, it’s just a normal part of life.
  • 20:3 – The Israelites always seem to recall events that they once complained about as better than their current circumstances. It most commonly is tied to lack of provisions or fear of danger. It’s also a tendency that we share today.
  • 20: 6-13 – The older Israelite generation had already been forbidden from the Promised Land. Now, because he did not obey the Lord completely, Moses and Aaron are also forbidden. Moses was told to strike the rock once but he struck it twice. He also tried to take credit for what the Lord would do by providing water. He said, “Shall we bring water” when it was only the Lord’s work.
  • 20: 28-29 – Even though the Israelites complained and rebelled a lot, clearly they loved Aaron.
  • 21: 4-9 –The Israelites complain, God gets angry and punishes them, they cry out for mercy, and God offers mercy. These people just don’t learn- God must have be so frustrated with them. The more we read Numbers, the more I start to wonder how God restrained himself; had I been God, I’m not sure I could have been so merciful.

February 14th

Numbers 17-18

  • Chapter 17—This is intended to be proof to the Israelites that God has chosen Moses and Aaron to lead them, and that it’s the people of Israel, not their leadership, that have offended God repeatedly. Prior to this, the people were blaming all of their misfortunes on Moses and Aaron, rather than admitting their mistakes. In verse 12 the Israelites finally seem to grasp the magnitude of the situation.
  • 18:8-11 – Aaron and his family are given everything that is offered to the Lord. They receive this instead of an inheritance because the Lord is to be their portion.
  • The Levites also got no inheritance of the people of Israel. Instead, they got the tithes offered to God.
  • 18:26 – The Levites were supposed to tithe off of the tithes they received. This is kind of like pastors tithing since they are paid by the tithes of the church members

February 13th

Numbers 14-16

  • 14: 1-4 – When things get scary, we often revert to whatever was comfortable even if it was bad for us. For the Israelites it was Egypt.
  • 14:18 – As Moses appeals to the Lord to forgive the Israelites for their continued unfaithfulness, he uses a phrase that people will repeat throughout the Bible, “the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…”.
  • 14:20-25—Moses’ plea for mercy works- instead of wiping them out and starting over with Moses, God settles for keeping them in the desert for 40 years so that the only living Israelite adult who will one day see the Promised Land is Caleb- the only one who didn’t doubt that God would protect them. In other words, God gave them what they wanted: they were afraid to enter the Promised Land, so God says “Fine, you won’t go there- I’ll wait until the next generation replaces you, and take them to the Promised Land.”
  • 15:22-26 – It might be weird for us to think about unintentionally sinning because we normally know when we’re making choices that probably aren’t pleasing to God. They truly might have worn something with mixed fabrics unintentionally or broken some other law that they made a mistake on. God made atonement for these sins fairly easy and universal.
  • 16:15-20—First, Moses is so upset with the Israelites he tells God to ignore their offerings. God’s response is to say “Ok then, go stand over there while I wipe them out”, at which point Moses promptly changes his mind and begs God not to destroy the Israelites. God seems to really like using object lessons to teach people to be careful what they wish for- first he overwhelms them with quail when they want meat, and now when Moses wants the Israelites to suffer God prepares to kill them all- whether or not he was actually going to go through with it isn’t clear, but it seems that Moses learns his lesson.

February 12th

Numbers 11-13

  • 11:1-7—I’ve heard people question why a loving God would rain fire down on his people just because they’re complaining about life in the desert. However, given how much God has already done for them, how faithfully God has provided for them, and how superficial their complaints are, I think God might be showing a good amount of restraint here. Put yourself in his shoes- would you have stopped at just raining fire on them for a little bit? (the answer is no, by the way)
  • 11:10-14—Here’s a good way to paraphrase what Moses in these verses: “God, I’m not their mother, why do I have to put with them? Seriously, kill me now- it’d be easier than listening to their constant whining.”
  • 11:16-23—God’s response to Moses: “Oh, they’re complaining again? Fine, if they want meat, I’ll give them meat- I’ll give them more meat than they now what to do with. I’m gonna make them sick of meat and let’s see if they keep doubting me then.” (Spoiler alert: they keep doubting God anyway)
  • 11:31-34—God absolutely covers the ground with quail; it’s a ridiculous amount of quail. It’s literally so much quail that the Israelites have to work 24/7 to gather it all. Then, just to remind them how much they’ve ticked him off, God strikes them with a plague while they’re eating the quail (possibly a food-borne illness they contracted from eating the ridiculous amount of quails). The moral of the story: When God is literally providing miraculous food for you every day after freeing you from 400 years of slavery through a series of miracles, don’t whine about the quality of the food he’s giving you.
  • 12:3 Moses is traditionally believed to be the author of Numbers, which would make this verse pretty questionable. Fortunately for him, there’s no evidence for this and most scholars think that Numbers, along with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, is the work of at least two authors, and possibly many more- ancient societies actually didn’t place much importance on authorship, even for religious or historical texts. The Greeks are the first culture to care about who wrote what, and it’s after extended contact with Greek culture that the Jews first start to assign authorship to the Torah.
  • 12:6-16—Moses is the person God’s chosen to lead his people- this gives Moses a unique and special status: nobody else will be as close to God as Moses until Jesus comes. Miriam and Aaron aren’t just challenging their brother’s authority, they’re challenging God himself. God chose to work through Moses, so by challenging Moses they’re questioning God’s wisdom.
  • Chapter 13—The spies are disturbed by what they see in Canaan. It’s easy to forget in modern times, but in the ancient world people who lived in more fertile areas were bigger and stronger than those who didn’t- the Canaanites had more food available to them than the nomadic Israelites, so they naturally grew bigger. It’s easy to see why the Israelites are afraid.