We are 1/6th of the way through this one-year journey through the Bible. Though, we have seen so much of God’s wonder, I feel like we’ve only had a peak at everything there is to know. If you have been reading along on this blog, you can tell that I get confused and upset at God for some of what I see as punishments and unfairness. I don’t feel good about these feelings! Luckily, Rob, a seminary grad and cultural history guru sets me straight by answering my questions at the end of each reading. So, I carry on. I’m starting to pray to God for guidance and understanding before each reading. We’ve only seen a little bit of His plans, so stay tuned to see how the Best Book in the World unfolds. (The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.)
Questions & Observations
Q. (Numbers 6:1): I don’t recall hearing the designation Nazirite before. It’s a vow Israelites can take to show their devotion to God? And, they are “set apart” by not cutting their hair, abstaining from alcoholic drinks and staying away from the dead? Can any Israelite be a Nazirite? What role do they play, other than being close to God, in the society?
A. No, this is the introduction of the concept. The Nazirite is basically a rite of purity and separation for the Lord that involved a vow — sometimes for life. We might think of it kind of like the vows and separation that monks and nuns keep to this day for the purpose of showing their devotion to God. The description points to those three items as ways of demonstrating the vow publicly: no alcohol or any vine product, no cutting the hair and no touching dead bodies. As far as I can tell, anyone, including women, could take this particular vow and be separated for the Lord for the length of their vow. We don’t have a ton of references to particular people who kept this vow in the Bible, but two who did were two of the most famous: Samson, the “Hercules” of the Bible, whose story about getting his hair cut off makes a lot more sense if you understand this vow, and John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who prepares the way for His Master to enter His ministry.
Q. I have to admit that I started this day’s reading and stopped. I saw all the rules — although these sound like a choice — and didn’t want to read them. It seems like the Israelites had rule after rule after rule. Any idea if they had fun too, or were things always serious?
A. To be quite honest with you, this section in particular is about as much “fun” as the Law gets. That is, this section is not about requirement or obligation, but about making a vow or commitment to God that you DESIRED to do. We don’t really know a ton about what life was like for ancient Israel, but keep in mind that the concept of “leisure” time is a fairly modern invention. There wasn’t a lot of time for fun, they were trying to make it through the day. The vast majority of the world’s population at this time, and for thousands of years, lived day to day. It’s part of the reason that the very currency that we see used in the Bible, the denarius, was a unit of payment given for a day’s work. People mostly lived hand to mouth, which is part of the reason that the Law specifically forbids exploiting workers by not paying them THAT DAY for their work (Lev 19:13). Sorry, there wasn’t much time for fun!
Q. (6:18): God has said that the aroma from many sacrifices was pleasing to him. I wouldn’t think hair would be? Any idea why God would choose the Nazirites to grow their hair long?
A. Even in a society where the Law put restrictions on hair cutting, the length of a Nazirities’ hair would have made them stand out. It was the most public display of the vow the person was practicing.
O. (6:24-26): Love this verse. Every day, my daughter’s teacher at a classical school (Classical schools are awesome — so loving!) puts her hand on each of her student’s heads as they leave her classroom and quietly and personally says this verse. This is an awesome blessing. It calms my mind.
Q. (10:10): It’s interesting that God says the trumpets will remind Him of the covenant He made with the Israelites. Is this because the Israelites tend to like a roller coaster ride of following and not following God?
A. I have no idea why God would say this for Himself, but I do know that the silver trumpets would be part of Israelite worship for centuries: King David featured them prominently during his rule (1 Chron. 16:6 and 25), and they were used to call the people to the various feasts and holy days. I don’t know about God being reminded, but surely the people would be reminded of the covenant when THEY heard them.
Q. (10:13): The cloud of God lifted so the Israelites followed. In a recent reading, you mentioned that Judah’s troops led the way. And you pointed out that Reuben’s followed a few tribes behind. We know Reuben is the one who tried to rescue Joseph. Why is the order of the tribes significant?
A. While it is true that Reuben (the oldest son, technically his descendants should have been first among the people) did try to save Joseph’s life, he also slept with one of Jacob’s wives (Gen. 35), and lost his place of prominence for it. In his failing, it is Judah’s descendants who gain the position of prominence that will include the line of kings of the entire nation (including Jesus). This is just one more place where the birth order doesn’t matter so much as God’s favor and the person’s own actions.