Day 245 (Sept. 2): Tribes east of Jordan, Aaron’s descendants, descendants of Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Asher, Benjamin

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

1 Chronicles 5:18-26

1 Chronicles 6:3

1 Chronicles 6:49

1 Chronicles 6:4-15

1 Chronicles 7:1-40

1 Chronicles 8:1-28

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 Chronicles 5:26): On a “free will” argument note.  It bugs me a little bit that God empowers enemy leaders to overtake Israel as punishment.  But, I’m starting to understand.  He is just “setting the bar” to show the Israelites (and I would think us too) how to have a good, fulfilling life — whether it’s all filled with glory or not just depends on the surrounding circumstances — and then a ticket to live with Him.  If we CHOOSE not to accept the rules — which are made for our betterment — then there will be major consequences, either immediate or in the future, but they are certain.  So, no matter if He goes against His people, He is watching over them like we do as parents.  If they make mistakes, they need to be punished so they will know right from wrong and that only bad comes from evil choices.  So, the fact that God gave the Assyrian king no choice in His actions, the king had already made bad choices.  By God empowering him too gives the king a chance to see His might and possibly change His loyalties.

A. I think you’ve touched on a pretty clear understanding of the issues at play here.  God gave the people many (many, many, many) chances to repent of their sin, even over many generations, but they would not yield to Him.  Back in Exodus, God’s solution to this problem was to basically let the older generation die in the dessert and start over with their children.  The solution is not unlike what He is doing here: it is the children and grandchildren of the unfaithful nation that will return to the Promised Land and reestablish the nation that was last for many more generations.  Don’t lose sight of the endgame at work here as well: God has setup the nation of Israel to “give birth” if you will to His chosen Messiah.  It is through God’s chosen one that He will bring about the redemption of the entire world, not merely His chosen children.  So when we consider free will decisions and following God, we must always have in mind that God has a plan of His own, and He will carry it out.  Whether we are able to participate in His plan comes down to a matter of obedience.

Q. Is there any significance in the rest of the listings of the tribes and their ancestral clans?  Is this just to trace ancestral lines and see where they settled?

A. The Chronicler is telling the story of his people, even the ones that have been lost along the way.  That is why all tribes are included.

Day 64 (March 5): Purifying with water, Miriam dies, Moses strikes rock for water, Moses is punished for changing rock procedure, King Edom refuses to let Israel pass, Aaron dies, Canaanite victory, manna complaintes, bronze snake, travels to Moab, Beer, more victories

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  Please join us!

Numbers 19-21

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 19:1-22): We have talked about how Israelites would be ceremonially unclean if they touched a dead person and would need purification to become clean again.  We have said that the reason for this is a hygienic issue.   God did not want disease to enter the Tabernacle.  Is there anything more?

A. The hygiene is the underlying issue to consider when it comes to the purification, but ultimately, God is providing instructions for obedience, and part of it was not having the Tabernacle come in contact with things that were unclean because they had been in various forms of contact with the dead.  God WAS interested in helping the community not suffer from disease, especially among the priests, but the reason the people were required to obey didn’t just have to do with the spread of disease, but because God was teaching them to trust and follow His commands.  If God declared that contact with dead bodies (including animals, as this passage reminds us) caused people to be unclean, that was all they needed to know in order to obey.  We can see considerations of community hygiene, but they were simply expected to obey because that is what God told them.

Q. (20:1): Not much is made of Miriam’s death.

A. That is true.  Something that I read is that because of her proclamation of victory after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15), she became a figure associated with water.  Thus, the next section of the story, the provision of water in the wildnerness, even with the cost to Moses and Aaron, was a way of honoring her spirit.  Miriam remains an important figure to Jewish women, and one of the most well-known and commonly used Jewish names.  Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother, and what seems like a dozen other women in the New Testament, bear the same name, Mary.  Mary is the English version of the translation of the same name in Greek, the Hebrew name Miriam.  So while the story does not seem to honor her, she remains to this day a very revered Jewish figure.

Q. (20:2-5): In a reading a couple days ago, you mentioned that because of the disrespect and disbelief that this generation of Israelites had that God intentionally made them wander in the desert for 40 years, long enough for that rebellious generation to die off.  Here they are grumbling again.  Did God reveal to them why they keep wandering

A. I think the previous texts made the matter pretty clear (Numbers 14 tells them that their time in the desert matches the time in days the spies were in the Promised Land: 40 years for 40 days.  But it appears they didn’t get the message, and rather then seeking to repent, they tried to force God’s hand by going into the land anyway, and continuing to complain about Moses and God’s provision.  Some people learn hard.

Q. (20:6-13): I know this story, so I know that God was upset with Moses because Moses struck the rock instead of just speaking to it.  But, if you don’t know this story and are just reading along, you may be confused because Moses got water for the people from the rock as God told him to.  It’s the specific instructions that Moses does not follow.  Do we know if this is intentional on Moses part, or just a misunderstanding?  I guess we take it that Moses did it intentionally, because God knows his heart and Moses did write this book, as best to our knowledge.  Maybe Moses is upset with God: His sister just died?  So, now Moses and Aaron will not see Canaan, just like the rest of that generation of Israelites.

A. Moses will see the Promised Land, just not enter it.  You’ll see how.  I’m sure the death of his sister had something to do with his frustration, but ultimately he directly disobeys God, and joins his generation in being kept out of the Promised Land.  There’s a lot of speculation about what Moses actually did, clearly it wasn’t just a misunderstanding, but rather willful intent on his part.  He is clearly angry with the people, and very likely at the end of his rope in frustration with their complaining.  Personally, I think that what God reacts to is Moses claiming credit for the provision of water (“must I provide it for you”), when God was the one who had made the provision.  It is never a good thing when we claim personal credit for things that we know are the will and provision of God alone.

Q. (20:14-21): The descendants of Esau comprise Edom, right?  Jacob and Esau parted on good terms years ago.  Why would the king of Edom not let the Israelites pass through?  Do we know how other nations view the Israelites at this time?  They are a huge traveling group.  There must have been talk.

A. Remember that Esau’s other name was Edom, related to his red hair and foolish desire for red stew (Genesis 25:30).  We do not know exactly what motivated the king’s decision, but the antagonism between Jacob’s descendants and Esau’s is one of the things we noted back in Genesis was something we would follow throughout the narrative.  As you mention, the group was probably quite intimidating, so perhaps there is little surprise that various nations refused to let them enter their territory.

Q. (20:29): I wonder here if mourning means observance of death or actual mourning.  The reason I bring this up is that the Israelites yo-yo between respecting Moses and Aaron and rebelling against them.  To mourn for 30 days must mean they respected him at this time?  They also seem to be following in the next passage, Numbers 21:1-3.

A. Most ancient societies had standard operating procedures for honoring the dead, which appears to be what the text is describing.  I do think that it is a powerful tribute to the respect they had for Aaron, even as they refused to listen to him.  Aaron, along with Moses, certainly did a lot for the people in terms of, you know, keeping the people alive and out of God’s wrath, and I think the people knew it.

Q. (21:4-9): I must say, I would think that if I had the same thing to eat over and over again that I would complain about it.  Is the lesson that the Israelites are not getting that they have made bad choices (complaining, doubting, being envious) and thus have brought this long journey in the desert on themselves?  If they would have trusted in God, they may have already been enjoying the Promised Land?

A. I think you’ve put it well.  Note the tone of the complaint: we hate this horrible manna, the very provision God made for His people day after day.  No wonder God was angered!  This isn’t, “Moses can we have quail or something else”, this is, “I hate what you are providing for me God,”  That’s very dangerous territory for any of us!

Q. (21:35): So after the Israelites destroyed these cities (God was with them), they could settle in those houses instead of using their tents?

A. I honestly don’t know if they used the territory; the text doesn’t tell us.  I would say it is a fair assumption that they (temporarily- they would be moving soon) used some of the buildings they conquered.

Thanks for reading.  See you tomorrow!

Day 63 (March 4): Korah challenges Moses, Moses puts Korah and followers to a test, Aaron’s staff shows he’s chosen, priests and Levites duties defined, tithing

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  The blog started on Jan. 1, 2013, but you can start at any time.   To start from the beginning, click on “index” to find Day 1.  We hope you enjoy this time of discovery as much as we do!  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.

Numbers 16-18

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 16:1,6): I guess Korah did not learn from God’s punishment to Miriam when she and Aaron also became envious of Moses being the one God talks to and has chosen to lead the Israelites (Numbers 12:1-16).  What is the significance of burning incense before the Lord?  Is it a way that the Lord can identify those who were challenging Moses (really God) and know which ones to punish?  The idea of burning incense in front of the Tabernacle just seemed to have popped out of Moses’ mouth with out him thinking about it as a way to see whom God chooses.  Many times, as I recall, Moses confers with God before he doles out a punishment.  God is really talking through Moses.

A. This is a literal trial by fire for the 250 men who were among the group that challenged Moses and Aaron.  They were attempting to offer incense to the Lord, a duty of the priest, to test whether the Lord would except them as priest instead of Aaron’s family.  Obviously, God did not.

O. (Numbers 16:12): How easily the Israelites forget their enslavement in Egypt!  We are supposed to remember our past and learn from our ancestors’ accomplishments and mistakes.   Here their memory is so short they can’t even remember that Miriam had leprosy from questioning God’s choice of Moses.

Q. (16:22-35): Moses is always interceding for the Israelites and pleading for God to forgive them.  I like this plan that just destroys the ones at fault.  I would think it would be very effective, especially since God appeared before the whole community.  So all of these men who were swallowed and burned were Levites?

A.  Some where Levites of the house of Kohath, which chapter 4 told us was the group of Levites responsible for moving and caring for (but not touching!) the sacred objects of the altar.  But the text also says that there were members of Reuben’s clan as well, which would mean they were not Levites.  These men were not satisfied with Moses’ rule, and appear to have longed for the “paradise” of Egypt.

Q. (16:40): So, these men were not authorized to burn incense at the Tabernacle — not Levites?  Moses knew this and knew they would be destroyed?

A. Well, that was the test.  If these men desired to be the true priests, they had to carry out the priestly duties, and we can recall the careful instructions that God has given to Moses and Aaron about the priestly role.  So, basically, Moses probably knew that such a move was foolish for these men, but there was no other way for them to demonstrate that they had been chosen by God.

Q. (16:46-50): Does Moses actually have power here or is he using power God gave him to control God’s wrath?

A. As we have seen several times, and will see again soon, it appears that Moses and Aaron act on behalf of the people in order to spare them, or in this case spare MORE of them, God’s wrath.

Q. (17:8): We have seen the almond symbol before when God was instructing the Israelites on how to make the lampstand (Exodus 25:33).  What is the significance of almonds here?

A.  It is the same.  We looked at this question on Day 44 (Feb. 13th).  Here’s what I noted there: There are two significances to the almond tree.  First, the almond tree was the first tree to bloom in the Middle East after the winter, making it a symbol of new life and renewal.

The other symbolism of the almond tree is a word play.  The word for almond (shâqêd) in Hebrew is very similar to the word for “lookout”, “watchful”, or “unresting”.  So in this case, the staff itself becomes a symbol of God’s provision and His watching over His people.

It is also possible, we are not told, that Aaron’s staff could have been from an almond tree, and so the miraculous growth seen was related to the “original” trunk of the tree it came from.

O.  (17:12): I think the Israelites are missing the point.  Destroying these unbelievers was a sign to learn from.  They think that they are cursed if they go near the Tabernacle instead of realizing that the actions of those who were destroyed caused their doom.

Q. (18:8-24): I would think that the Levites getting all of the offerings and tithes would cause some jealousy.  I understand that God righted this by not allowing the Levites to own land.  Any insight?

A. God was asking a great deal of Aaron and the Levites.  It only seems fair that they are compensated for this sacrifice.  And while the text says “these offerings are yours,” they don’t mean, “so that you can get rich at My expense.”  The Levites were expected to tithe upon the tithe (as we read), but also use the funds to care for the equipment and various parts of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple.  I honestly doubt if very many people got wealthy, God is simply making a provision for His carefully selected people.

Q. (18:30-32): So the people gave the Levites their tithing.  From this, the Levites fed their families and gave the best portion to the priests, which is how the priests ate.  When, God says to offer and tithe, the priests and Levites receive it and use it?  It goes to God through the Israelite leaders?

A. This passage is saying that even though the Levites were receiving the tithe of the other tribes, they themselves were not exempted from tithing.  In fact, this passage is telling them that they must give God back, if you will, the very best of the things they received (oil, wheat, etc.).  In this way, the Levites were held to the same standard as the rest of the tribes: God expected the best, and the first fruits, even if it was indirectly.

Thanks for reading along!  See you tomorrow.

Day 61 (March 2): People complain to Moses, Moses complains to God, God gives Moses help, God sends meat, Miriam and Aaron become envious, scouts explore Canaan and see giants, scouts show fear

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  Today, Rob has an awesome answer for doubting Thomases.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.  Let us know if you have any comments to share.

Numbers 11-13

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 11:1-9): I guess I can envision fire, since we have seen God use fire a lot in our reading thus far.  However, I have heard folks say not to believe all the stories in the Bible as fact.  That it’s a wonderful book put together to either teach us how to live in society or that God did dictate it, but the stories are made up.  We’ve had the flood, the plagues and other miraculous events.  I can believe those.  I have always believed the manna from heaven, but frogs, gnats, locusts and floods are all something that can naturally happen.  Food from heaven does not.  Any words of the wise for doubting Thomases?

A. Well, honestly, there’s a fundamental “leap” that is required for stories such as this one.  Here’s the way I tend to think about such matters, which include things like the manna, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc.: the Bible makes NO claim that these are ordinary events.  It doesn’t say, “The Israelites got food from heaven, just like we do today.”  The story is describing the unique action of God in this particular circumstance.  They are, by their very definition, miracles: particular places in history where God chooses to intervene in human history for His own purposes.

So the fundamental question to ask yourself is this: Is there a God?  Is there a Being who created the heavens and earth out of nothing?  The Bible purports itself to be the recordings of interactions between this Being, which we call God in English and the Hebrews call Yahweh, and particular people in a certain period of history, roughly 1500 BC to 100 AD.  The distinction is crucial: if you believe that God did create everything that we see around us, then literally ALL of the other miracles of the Bible pale in comparison to the first one: the creation of life itself.  If you fundamentally believe that God exists and the Bible is an accurate portrayal of who He has revealed Himself to be — not merely what we have “created” him to be — then you should be able to see that such a Being is capable of much “smaller” miracles by comparison.  I see no reason, frankly, to split hairs on “which” miracles are the real ones: either there is a God who is capable of performing such signs and wonders, or there isn’t.  I really don’t think there’s a way to soft sell this: the miracles of the Bible hang together, and picking and choosing which are the “true” ones goes against the very spirit of the message of Scripture.  That, to me, is the true leap involved in faith, whether I believe the Bible speaks truthfully about the character and actions of God.

Don’t forget what Jesus told the original Doubting Thomas (in John 20): you believe in me because you have seen me [alive after I was dead], blessed are those who have NOT seen with their own eyes, and yet believe.

O. (11:10-15):  I love this passage!  Here the Israelites are whining, which reminds me of children.  I tell my youngest that to ask properly without whining.  It sounds sooooo much better.  Same here.  The Israelites should have asked instead of complaining and whining, which is the action we see in Moses.  He takes it as long as he can without grumbling, but then finally has had it and simply puts his case to God.  God grants him his wish.  In 11:21-22, Moses doubts God, but he never blames God for delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Q. (11:26-30): Why was this scene significant?  Joshua was worried that the elders who had just received the Spirit would become more powerful than Moses?

A. Not so much that they would be more powerful than Moses, but that they might lead people away from him as the true leader.  Joshua is concerned about potential revolt, but Moses isn’t worried: in fact, he wishes that the people would show more manifestations of the Spirit of God.

Q. (11:31-35): Did the people know that God would be outraged from gluttonous behavior?

A. There’s a few theories about what happened here.  The text seems to imply that everyone who ate the provided quail died, but I’ve heard other interpretations that the catch here is that the meat began to rot, and only those who ate the quail for days and days (the truly gluttonous) were the ones killed by it.  I’ll leave it to you to decide.

O. (12:8): I love this message.  Don’t question God’s wisdom, reason and loyalty.  Also, extend this to your own life, including friends and family.  If someone has a close relationship, we should not be jealous of it.  More importantly, if God chooses someone for something, honor and respect it.  Do not be jealous of it.  It’s not His plan for you.

Q. (13:25-33): Why did most of the men who explored Canaan say it was a land that would devour anyone who lives there?

A. They were scared, and the implication is that they lacked faith in God to do what He had promised: to drive out the people who lived there, even the “giants”.  In their panic, the scouts spread rumors about what they had seen, including that some of the people there were giants who would devour them (though this might refer to ritual cannibalism).  So basically, in their fear, the 10 fearful scouts are trying to prevent the people from entering the land and, in their mind, being conquered.  The easiest way to do that: to proclaim that you’ve seen unconquerable people who will squish you like bugs if you challenge them.  The people will pay dearly for this fearful decision.  In the end, an entire generation will be lost before the people are ready to enter the Promised Land.

Day 59 (Feb. 28): God assigns Levite clans various duties for carrying the Tabernacle and it’s sacred objects, Clans counted, keeping the camp pure, marital faithfulness

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Numbers 4-5

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 4:4-13): God instructed them to cover everything in a blue cloth except for the altar, which was to be wrapped in purple.  Why blue and purple?

A. Blue and purple were the colors of royalty, and such materials would have been extremely precious for the people to sacrifice.

Q. (4:17-20): Just hearing the sacred objects described sounds like no big deal at face value.  I think, why can’t others see them?  Then, I realize that I am belittling the wishes of the Creator of the Universe.

A. I don’t think it had anything to do with the sight of the objects, and is instead a desire to protect the men who were responsible for carrying the sacred objects, which were wrapped up.  The text specifically says that if they touched the objects they died, so Aaron’s family had to make sure the sacred items were wrapped up to protect the carriers.

Q. (4:29-33): I’m picturing the men carrying all of these poles and structure parts.  Do they have to carry them themselves or can they load them on an animal?  Why is God so specific on who carries what?

A. I believe that the intention was that these objects, including the ark itself which went first when the nation moved, be carried by people and not by burden animals.  God is dividing up the responsibly for the various parts among the major families of the Levites, and providing a role for each of them.

Q. (4:47-48): Was carrying the Tabernacle and its contents the only job of these men?  I would think that 8,580 men could do the job with a lot to spare.  Do we have any idea how Israelite civilization was set up?  With that many people, I would think it would be like a big downtown with people selling things and offering services.  We were told which sides of the Tabernacle the cities would reside.  The Tabernacle doesn’t look that big compared to the size of Israelite’s population.  I picture each side being like a subdivision.  And then finding your tent …  I picture the scene in Fools Rush In where Matthew Perry counts the houses on his Las Vegas street to see which one is his.

A. There is a lot of speculation about what the tent camp must have looked like, and I don’t really have any good answers for you.  Basically, what I know about the camp is that the Ark/Tabernacle was set up at the center of camp, and then the other tents were setup in concentric circles: the Levites formed the first ring (actually more like the first square, four sides are assigned to the various tribes), and then the rest of the tribes — 12 of them with Joseph’s two sons — formed the outer ring in the divisions that we saw in the previous reading.

When the camp moved, which is coming up, the Ark — carried on poles by the Levites- no one touched the Ark! — came to the front to lead, and the various objects for the Tabernacle (sacred objects, tent cloths, poles, etc.) were carried at various points among the other tribes in the order they were assigned to march.

As I said, there’s a lot of speculation about what this all looked like, but not a ton for us to go on about whether or not this looked like all the matching houses in Vegas.

Day 58 (Feb. 27): Tribes assigned place in camp, Levites to serve priests, Levites register, Firstborn sons redeemed through Levites

Need some direction in your life?  Join BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Many will explain things in the Bible you may have been confused about.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.  Let us know if you have any comments to share.

Numbers 2-3

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 2-3): Why is the number of people and the number of eligible warriors important to Bible readers?

A. Honestly, there’s not a great answer to that question for us today.  To the original readers (ancient Jews), this section would have been important as it relates to their own genealogy, something we have established is an important purpose of the OT.  This section — I’ll count chapters 1-3 — provides information on the current tribal leaders in the wilderness (1:5-15), the marching order for the army (note who’s out in front, Judah’s tribe, not Reuben’s), the arrangement of the camp, and a section for the genealogy of the Levites.  These are important considerations for this early post-Exodus nation.  Jews to this day use the Exodus as a marker or divider of time and history, the way Christians do with the Incarnation in the move between BC and AD.  So to them, this is a very crucial period between their ancestor’s freedom and the establishment of their own kingdom.

Q. (3:14): Can you tell us why the Levites were chosen for holy work?

A. No, I can’t tell you, because I don’t know.  God does not ever fully reveal the reason He selected the Levites for this task, only that He has chosen them.  It might be because Moses and Aaron were of that tribe, but ultimately, it is an issue of God’s sovereign choice.

But this passage (v. 11-13) does provide some interesting insight into the mindset that God is using: the Levities are designated to be the “first born” of the tribe, which from the Passover God tells us that the “first borns” belong to Him.  They were to be a people set apart, as a representation of the entire nation, in the same way that the entire nation was to be set apart from the world around them.  So you could say the Levites were “chosen” by God in the same representative manner that the entire nation was “chosen”.  Why them?  Only God knows!

Q. (3:43): The number of firstborns in this verse (22,273) seems much too small for a population of that many people.  What gives?

A. Actually, you’ve hit on one of the major problems of this text: what to do with the large numbers the text presents.  If added together (I looked it up, I didn’t calculate this number myself), you get a population of somewhere around 2 million people, which seems a bit too large for this period.  There are a few ways of looking at how the number is reached, but ultimately there is no definitive answer.  One way, for example, is that the Hebrew word for “thousand” is not actually what the word means here.  I wouldn’t get too hung up on the numbers: the most important thing that we can discern from this census is that the population had grown substantially in Egypt from the 12 sons of Jacob, and they will use this growth and mustered army to become a powerful nation, with God’s help, in the book of Joshua.

Day 57 (Feb. 26): Process for dedications to the Lord, Israel’s first census

Need some direction in your life?  Join BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Many will explain things in the Bible you may have been confused about.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.  Let us know if you have any comments to share.

Leviticus 27:1-34

Numbers 1:1-54

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 27:1-8): What does it mean to dedicate someone to the Lord?

A. This chapter appears to be about dedicating people and things like animals and property to the Lord.  This could be related to vows the people had made to God in exchange for His blessing (i.e. a cattle herder swearing, “if my herds give birth to 10 calves by your blessing, Lord, then I swear that I will dedicate one of them to You”, that type of thing).  But the system also appears to have a “cash conversion” system built into it for convenience.  So then rather the simply leaving the animal or house or child with the priest, the person who made the vow could “buy it out” and keep the object or person that the vow was made about.

Q. (27:10): What?  In 27:10, it says that animals offered may not be exchanged and then says, but if you do, they will both be considered holy.  Why the conflict?  Why would anyone want to exchange an animal?  I realize this is not an important question.  I am just puzzled by the subject and the conflicting statements.

A. There’s some nuance to the text that I don’t think comes across in the NLT, but this is a tricky verse I don’t fully understand either.  One thing that is clear: the exchange is related to the animals that a person promised to the Lord.  You could not go back on your vow related to the particular animal that you were offering: if it was a choice animal that you promised to dedicate, you couldn’t cheat and exchange it for a blemished animal.  We will see this in Malachi 1 — the people promise good animals, but actually bring injured or blemished animals, which was a great insult to God.  I think the end of the verse — both animals being holy — refers to the fact that in the event of a legitimate exchange — good animal for good animal — both animals, or the money they were sold for, could be used for holy purposes such as provisions for priests or refurbishing the tabernacle materials.

Q. (27:14-15): So, a house dedication is giving it to God.  I don’t understand what that does.  Do they still live in it?  Why can he/she buy it back?

A. This is the same situation as the animal exchange above: if a person made a vow that if they were able to build a house or dwelling with resources God provided, they would dedicate the house to the Lord.  If unredeemed (not bought back), it could become the home for a priest or other Levite, who didn’t have land of their own.  But the priesthood would be better able to use a “liquid” asset, and would therefore accept the exchange and give the property back to the owner.  The buyback option is provided for convenience.

Q. (27:22-24): How are they dedicating fields when they are in the desert?

A. This doesn’t refer to their land now, but this section, along with everything discussed with the Year of Jubilee, relates to the land that the Israelites will divide up among the tribes when the take over the Promised Land in Joshua/Judges.  The various tribes and then families would divide up the land into smaller and smaller lots, and these lots became the permanent inheritance of the family; they saw it as being given the land by God Himself.  This land could be sold, but only until the next Jubilee, when the Law required it be returned the original family.  We shall see how this plays out when the people enter the Promised Land in a bit.

Q. (27:29): I don’t understand this verse.  Is it important?

A. It’s not really important.  The verse is playing off of the intent of verse 28, which talks about redeeming things devoted to God.  This verse is saying that there are other people, specifically the tribes occupying the Promised Land, who rather than being devoted to God, are devoted to themselves, and destruction or war.  They cannot be redeemed from this devotion, which will come into play when God instructs the people about how to deal with these tribes.

Q. To whom do the Israelites pay this money to for dedication or buyback?

A. The money would be provided to a priestly treasury which provided for the needs of the Levites as well as providing resources for the Tabernacle, and later Temple, upkeep.

Q. (Numbers 1:10): Why isn’t Joseph listed as a tribe?

A. Jacob, Joseph’s father, was so pleased by his son saving the entire family, that he adopts two of Joseph’s sons: Ephraim and Manasseh (1:32-35) as his own.  Thus, Joseph’s lines got TWICE the inheritance of any other tribe: in all of these counts, Joseph’s family lines get counted twice.

Q. (1:53): This is an interesting verse.  Rob, can you comment on it?

A. In addition to the duties at the Tabernacle, it appears that this verse is telling us that the tents of the Levites formed a protective “hedge” around the Tabernacle, in order to prevent the people from improperly entering the Tabernacle courts and being subject to the wrath of God for their lack of respect.

Q. Why was the census taken?  Is this for an army?

A. Yes, the primary reason for the census was to determine the size of the force of arms that could be mustered.  The army will be needed to liberate control of the Promised Land.  In addition to the information in verse 1:3, which tells us this is an army tally, the exclusion of the Levites is a telltale sign.  The Levites did not serve in the army (though they will play an important role in some of the military campaigns – notably the conquest of Jericho), so they would have been excluded from this count.