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Saturday, March 04, 2017

Num. 21-22 (story time)

Chapter 21 reads like a bunch of stuff that the ancient editors were like, "Yeah, that should go in."

  • A Canaanite king attacks Israelites and so God destroys his cities, boom! Num. 21:1-3
  • Israelites get bitchy again, so God sends poisonous snakes, but then tells them about this trick where you put a snake on a pole, and then everyone bitten by a poisonous snake lives.  Num. 21:4-9
  • The Israelites kick a little Amorite ass Num. 21:21-31
  • The Israelites beat another king Num. 21:32-33

Then Chapter 22 gets into the cool story of Balaam and his ass.  Balaam seems to be a prophet of God.  Which is weird because he is not Israelite as near as I can tell.  Reminds me of Melchilzedek, Gen 14:18, also not Hebrew but evidently a priest of the Most High God.

Here's a link to the super weird story about an angel of the Lord standing by to kill Balaam, but luckily his donkey stops him from getting killed, then eventually speaks and tells him as much.  (P.S. the whole "only say what I tell you bit," was provided by God Godself right before crazy-donkey story.   

Friday, March 03, 2017

Num. 18-20

The priesthood is a gift 18:7; all the first born are theirs 18:14-16; no land or inheritance 18:20-24; tithe on your tithe 18:25 (probably one of the most consistent tithes); One becomes impure while making sacrifices under the guidance of Eleazar and while moving the dead; 19;   Just like we put caselaw in the middle of our statutes called annotations; No promised land for Moses: 20:9-12; still don't get it; Also Miriam and Aaron die.  20:22-29; 20:1

Today's passage deals with the ups and downs of priesthood, which it identifies as a gift, Num. 18:7, but you get the feeling it is one of those things where you kind of have to convince the recipient that this is a gift, you know?  See 18:14-16; 20-24.  They also have to tithe on the money they receive from tithes.  18:25.  I think there have been times in modern America in which the pastor is the only one who tithes.

Chapter 19 concern ritual impurity and again indicates that one become impure while doing necessary things.  Like burying the dead and making sacrifices.  This patter of providing laws in the middle of narrative seemed strange until I remembers that my law books all have annotations following the statutes.  So, you literally have the law with little abbreviated narratives interspersed.

We return to action with Chapter 20.  The chapter opens with Miriam's death, and closes with Aaron's.  That's a nod to the middle ages annotators, of course, since chapter and verse are not original to the text.  Esau's descendants, the Edomites, do not let the Israelites pass through their territory.  Given Israel was constantly stealing things from Esau through trickery, seems fair.

The middle of chapter 20 also contains this response to Israelite complaining.

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

I still do not understand what Moses did that was so bad.  Certainly not so bad to be denied entry into the Promise Land.  I wonder if part of the story was lost.   Tradition is that Moses took credit for God's work, which I understand is about all you can say, but does the text say that?

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Num. 16-17

Alright!  This is some Old Testament stuff now.  People getting nasty with Aaron & Moses.  Moses saying, "Okay, okay.  Tell you what, why don't you guys get some incense, stand in front of the Lord, and we'll see who he picks."  Then a couple of Reubenites--everyone else was a Levite--are all like, "Don't tell me what to do.  We'll stay right here." 

Result: incense dudes are burned up from fire from heaven, and the ground opens up and swallows the other guys and all of their families.  (P.S. YHWH again suggests to Moses that he just kill the whole lot of them, but again Moses says that is not fair.)

Then, the people get mad at Moses for killing all these people--seems like they do not learn well--and so they all right their names on a staff and God makes flowers grow out of his chosen one's: Aaron's.

We often talk about the Tower of Babel as the anti-Pentecost.  But, really this passage is the anti-Pentecost.  This passage is all about how the presence of God is made known only in the extraordinary.  And, in fact, it is dangerous to expose it to the ordinary.  Pentecost, with gentle flames, will reverse that and make the Spirit ordinary. 

I actually think this is a pretty rich story worthy of exploration.

Interesting Note: Num. 16:1 seems to claim that Korah--one of the rebels--is the great grandson of Levi.  Not possible since Levi was a son of Jacob who went to Egypt 430 years prior to the exodus.   

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Num. 14-15; Ps. 90 (angry God)

The theme of an angry God continues, even in the Psalm that is included in today's reading.  I think Numbers 14:18-23 provides some interesting stuff.

“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 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.


First, really? Slow to anger?  Second, have you really forgiven them is they never get to the Promised Land?  But more importantly, how powerful is this metaphor.  And, how important must it have been for those living in exile dream of returning to the nation's former glory.  Centuries later, Jesus would remind his followers that those who reap do not necessarily get to sow.  This is the kind of reflection that is valuable to me.

Psalm 90 is credited to Moses in my NIV Bible.  And, what I think is a smidge unusual for the Psalms, it addresses God's anger toward Israel.
Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
I selected this passage for two things.  First, I think being mindful of our limited number of days is important.  Second, notice the age of humans described herein.  Recall, that one served the temple from 25-50.  I wonder if the Israelites, at least at the time the texts were written, lived to be 75 assuming they didn't die in childbirth, etc.  Interesting.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Num. 11-13 (stories)

This passage contains the story of God getting angry and sending down fire on the outskirts of camp, but stopping when Moses asked him to.  Num. 11:1-3.  The people craving meat and asking why Moses led them away from that sweet, sweet Egyptian cuisine.  So, God blew a bunch of quail from the sea into the wilderness for them to eat.  But then it made God mad they were so bitchy, so he sent a plague and a bunch of them died.  Num. 11:4-35.  Then Aaron & Miriam got jealous of Moses so God cause Miriam to have leprosy for like seven days.  Num. 12.  Then after moving into the wilderness of Param, they send spies into the Promised Land, but only Caleb still wants to go get it.  The others are all, "ooh, they are giants, and ooh, their cities are strong, and ooh, the land is already inhabited by other people."  Num. 13.

This thing of God acquiescing to the will of the people, but then holding it against them is weird, but at the same time kind of reflects the way the world wants.  I really want to do something that is bad for me, often I find a way to do it, but it's no less bad for me.

I dig the Nephilim coming back--but only in English, the Spanish translators leave the term out.  I also dig the origins of cool biblical names.  Caleb & Joshua are popular.  Nobody is naming their kid Igal--the spy from the tribe of Issachar--'cuz he was terrible.

We've had little peaks at Joshua.  He was renamed Joshua, from Hoshea, by Moses. New names are big deals, amiright?  And he comes from the tribe of Ephraim, one of the tribes of Joseph.  So, we kind of spread it around.  Joseph is great, and one of his descendants will conquer the Promise Land.  Judah, not a bad house with David, Solomon, and Jesus.  And who can forget Levi, with the whole Moses, Aaron & Miriam thing.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Num. 8-10

The sons of Aaron can only work in the meeting tent between the ages of 25 and 50.  I wonder what that says about life expectancy, at least when the text was written, although something like this is a thing that probably could have been passed down year after year.

Interesting anachronism, God tells Moses what the Hebrews should do regarding Passover celebration when they (or their descendants) are travelling in a foreign country.  I mean, the Israelites did not have a country yet, let alone an opportunity to travel to foreign countries.

But, the big news is that we've moved on from Sinai to Paran.  Moses asks his father-in-law to stick with them--who remember he was still there.  God is still understood as inhabiting a particular space.  Indeed, the passage closes with this phrasing that makes it sound very much like YHWH is a genie in a bottle that is the Ark of the Covenant.


And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”

Num. 7 (offering)

So, this one is about dedicating the meeting tent.  Every tribe of Israel brought fourth:


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; one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering.

Each of these underlined phrases refer to the offerings detailed earlier.  Then after this being repeated twelve times, each of the kids of Jacob minus Levi, but with two for Joseph, the chapter concludes with this trippy verse.
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.