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.

What to expect this week

You did it! You finished Leviticus!

I actually like Leviticus and think there’s a lot we can learn from it, but even I have to admit the Numbers is much easier to read.

When I read Numbers, the image that comes to my mind is a family road trip: You’ve got God and Moses sitting up front with all of Israel in the back seat constantly whining and asking “Are we there yet?” every thirty seconds, and God and Moses keep threatening to turn the car around (or drive it off a cliff- God threatens to kill them all on multiple occasions, and it’s hard to blame him).

I actually get frustrated and annoyed when I read Numbers because of the way that the Israelites behave, and when that happens I begin to understand God’s patience and mercy in new ways- largely because I begin to realize how often my own behavior mimics that of the Israelites in this book.

February 11th

Numbers 8-10

  • God proves himself willing to take a substitute for what he originally required. Originally he claimed all first borns as his own. Now he will accept the Levites as a substitute for all first borns. This is reminiscent of how he accepted the death of Jesus for all of our sins.
  • 9:15-23 – The cloud was a very clear sign of what the Lord wanted of the Israelites. We often would like something as obvious and tangible as a cloud telling us where and when to go.
  • Chapter 10: Even the way that they break camp and march as a group through the desert is given a specific order and ritual; it may seem like it’s a bit much, but these people are God’s representatives on earth—the way they do everything that they do is important

February 10th

Numbers 5-7

  • 5: 11-31 – The test for an unfaithful wife is clearly disturbing to us partially because she has to go through this whether she’s been unfaithful or not and partially because there is no equivalent test for a husband who may have been unfaithful.
  • 5:22 – “Thigh fall away” is also translated as “uterus drop”. In other words, the woman would become unable to have children.
  • 5: 31 – Women were considered property in this culture and age.
  • It may be hard to believe, but although women in ancient Israel were treated as property, they were still better off than the women in every surrounding culture. Had God commanded the Israelites to treat men and women as inherently equal, it wouldn’t have worked—the very concept would have been difficult for them to understand. Instead, God created a number of different laws that set standards with regard to the treatment of women. You’ll also see as we read through the Bible an “upward trajectory” for women in Israel: in Judges the nation will be led by a woman- Deborah. There will be at least one highly respected female prophet, Huldah (if you’re looking for a name for a future daughter, this is it!). In the New Testament, Paul puts a woman, Priscilla, in charge of the church in Philippi. In other words: there are whole lot of disturbing passages in the Old Testament that treat women poorly by our standards, but they are merely part of the story, not a treatise on how God wants women to be treated.
  • Chapter 6: pay attention here; when we read about Samson in Judges this passage will be in important. Samson was a Nazirite.

February 9th

Numbers 1-4

  • 1:2 – The Israelites are counted by their tribe – the 12 tribes of Israel – the 12 sons of Jacob (also named Israel)- Technically, there are thirteen tribes, because instead of a tribe of Joseph, there’s one tribe for each of his two oldest sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. Since the tribe of Levi is never given it’s own area of camp or it’s own section of the promised land, but is instead scattered amongst the other tribes and the Tabernacle/Temple, we still refer to them as the twelve tribes .
  • 1:3 – The census was to determine how many men Israel had who were eligible for war.
  • 1:27-54 – The Levites were not counted because their job was to take care of the tabernacle.
  • 2:1– Just like the homes were supposed to face the Tent of Meeting, certain Jewish prayers are supposed to be said in the direction of the place the temple was.
  • 3:38 – Interesting that part of the priestly duty was to guard the temple. This seems like a strange task for priests. I am definitely not the person you want guarding the church.
  • 3:44-51 – The Levites weren’t killed in exchange for the first born of each Israelite family, they were simply set apart for service to God and the Lord allowed that commitment to redeem the lives of all the first born.
  • Chapter 4: Each family group had a specific purpose they were tasked with that helped the whole group succeed.

February 8th

Leviticus 26-27

  • Chapter 26—These seem like harsh penalties, but only when taken out of context. God has already done a lot for these people: first he saved their ancestors from dying in a famine by leading them to Egypt, then he saved them from slavery in Egypt through the plagues which eventually required him to kill every firstborn child in Egypt, then he provided miraculous food and water for them in the wilderness. The price of the Israelites freedom was incredibly high- the loss of the firstborn children of Egypt alone is terrible- and therefore God is going to exact a high price from Israel if they turn their back on him after everything he’s done for them.
  • 27: 32 – The total number was most likely translated wrong. It is pretty much impossible that there were 603+ thousand men and approximately 2 million people total.

February 7th

2/7

Leviticus 24-25

  • 24:10-16 – If the blasphemer had been fully Egyptian or from any other nation, he would not have been held to the same standard but because he was an Israelite, he was subject to their law.
  • 25:8-9 – The number 7 in the Bible represents completion.
  • 25:13-17 – The year of jubilee resulted in restoration of the way things should be: joy and rest.
  • Israelites were intended to care for one another, not profit off of one another.
  • 25:25-47—Here again we find laws that require the Israelites to be merciful and compassionate people.

February 6th

2/6

Leviticus 21-23

  • 21:1-9 – Priests had extra rules applied to them since they offered the sacrifices and had a special position.
  • 21:16-24 – Definitely a confusing passage in our current context. It’s not clear why God commands this.
  • 22: 2-16 – Because the food offered at the Tabernacle was holy, one needed to be in a holy condition to eat it. This means that not only was this food reserved for the priests (who typically didn’t have another source of food to rely on) but the priests also had to undergo a series of purification rituals before they could eat. If you were ever frustrated by your parents making you wait to eat dinner until after saying grace, just be glad they didn’t making you bathe and douse yourself with anointing oil before each meal.
  • 22:17-25—It’s important that the animals offered as a sacrifice are the best of the best- an “unblemished” bull is a bull in perfect health who could either be sold for a very high price, or could be used to breed more healthy cattle, so it’s very valuable. In contrast, a bull (or ram) that’s “blemished” has some kind of defect- maybe a disease of some kind. No one is going to buy it and nobody wants to use it for breeding, so it has no value: it wouldn’t much of a sacrifice at all.
  • Chapter 23: All of these festivals are still celebrated in the Jewish community today.