Day 52 (Feb. 21): Contaminated houses, Ceremonially unclean rules, Day of Atonement a.k.a. Yom Kippur

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.

Leviticus 14:33-16:34

Questions & Observations

Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily reading.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Let us know if you have any comments to add.

Q. (Leviticus 14:33): Can you tell us why God would purposely contaminate the houses with mildew (leprosy)?

A. (See my answer yesterday to the question of the English word choice for translating mildew/leprosy).  I am honestly not sure, but much of the area that will be settled in the Promised Land would be near the coast, so there could certainly be problems with moisture brought in from the Mediterranean.

O. This scene reminds me of people in an airplane — me being one of them — who doesn’t want to have to touch the person seated next to them.  Luckily, I am normally surrounded by my kids.  You never know what ailment the person had seated in that same seat the previous 10 flights or more.  Viruses live a long time.  LOL.  We are all God’s creatures and should love one another accordingly.  Just keep your germs to yourself.  Ha.

Q. Was being “unclean” shameful?

A. In the absence of basic sanitation and knowledge about how disease is spread, it was very likely that being unclean would have been seen as God’s punishment, so it very likely was perceived as being shameful, but as we discussed yesterday, most of the time the being unclean was only temporary.

Q. (15:28): What sin has a woman committed through menstruating that she would have to make a sin offering?

A. The sin offering was being made in this case to restore the woman to full “clean” status in the community; she didn’t sin by having her period.

Q. With all due respect, the talk of all these offerings is wearing me out.  I can’t imagine all of these offerings and inspections.  I don’t understand why God made all of this so complicated.  …  Now that I’ve had a second to think about it, I recall that it’s preparing the way for the brutality of Christ’s sacrifice.  The saying, “Look to the cross,” answers so many questions!

A. The system is complicated because life is complicated.  God is making a way for His people to be in close relationship with Him on a daily basis, but they must be ceremonially clean in order for that relationship to take place.  You can probably see why this text is among the most baffling and least read of the OT: It can seem like it is just easier to skip it.  In some regards, it does get better: there are other sections of Leviticus that we will get to — I’m thinking of chapter 19 in particular — that relate to care for the poor and loving one’s neighbor that seem a lot more “relevant” to us.  But there is some important stuff here: we will see a lot of atonement imagery in the crucifixion — as you pointed to — that relates to what we read about the Day of Atonement.  So while it can feel like something that needs to be “waded” through, there will be important principles that will be laid out here that will resonate throughout scripture.

Q. (16:1-2): God is telling Moses to tell his brother Aaron not to make the same mistake that Moses’ nephews made?  I feel like he is pushing Aaron away because of the mistakes his sons made.  Can you say what God’s reason is for warning Aaron that he will die if he doesn’t fulfill protocol before entering the Most Holy Place?  I always imagine God wanting to get closer to His people, but here, it seems he wants a distance.

A. God’s warning is not about the same thing that got his sons killed.  Verse 1 is only a placeholder for the time: it tells us that these instructions came after his son’s death.  God’s instructions to Aaron were for a different set of rules: for entering the Most Holy Place behind the inner certain in the tent — the resting place of the Ark.  Aaron and his descendants were not allowed to enter the MHP anytime they liked, they were only able to do so one time of year, and after very specific procedures were followed.  But this was probably the most important act of the High Priest the entire year: making atonement for any unconfessed sin for the ENTIRE NATION!

Q. (16:18-22): I see a lot of similarity between the sacrifice of the goat and the release of the “scapegoat” with Christ’s crucifixion.  I’m understanding that the animals will eventually be replaced by Christ.  He takes the reasons of both animals.  He dies for us, purifying us and takes our sins away, making us feel a lot less weighted down.  Yeah!  Thank you Jesus and God!!!!  How about “a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness.” Can we pin that character on anybody in the crucifixion story?

A. I guess you could say that person is Pilate, the man who ordered Jesus to be crucified — under pressure from the Jewish leadership — but I think that’s a step too far.

Q. (16:25): I keep getting things that I have forgotten to ask in similar stories.  We talked about the fat of the sacrifices belonging to God, but I don’t think I’ve asked about the symbolism of the altar.  Does the altar represent God or just a place where we can offer him things?  I have never given much thought to it other than a platform to burn things.  But, know I’m getting a vibe that it’s more than that.  It’s a place where God embraces the gifts.  He does come in the form of fire a lot.  If you all have already made this realization, please forgive me, there’s a lot to think about in this Holy Book and sometimes I have mommy brain.

A. The altar is everything you have stated above, but I think in addition to these other things, it is a symbol of God’s righteous judgment and wrath.  Don’t miss the imagery of burning and consumption — the imagery used with Hell — in considering the role of the altar: it was a place where the sins of the people were burned away from the people, and I think the people would have been quite clear about the importance of the altar where they could make sacrifices to hold the wrath of God at bay.

Q. (16:29): Does anyone still observe this day: “On the tenth day of the appointed month in early autumn?”

A. Yes.  Yom Kippur, Hebrew for Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the entire year for Jews even today.  It does indeed take place on the 10th day of the month that Jews call Tishrei.  This month always falls in autumn — but is based upon a lunar, rather than solar calendar — the Gregorian equivalent is September or October.  So, for example, the 2013 date of Yom Kippur will be Sept. 13, though note that Jewish holy days begin at sundown of what we would call the day “before,” if that makes sense, on a lunar calendar, and in 2014 it will fall in October.  Check it out for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_kippur

Day 50 (Feb. 19): Priests start work, Aaron’s sons sin, priestly conduct explained, ceremonially clean and unclean animals

Woohoo!  Day 50, can you believe it? We are nearly 1/14th through the Bible and have learned so much.  To me, it really is going fast.  I just can’t believe that there are so many more stories to go and more lessons … and understandings to learn!

Leviticus 9-11

Questions & Observations

Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily reading.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Let us know if you have any comments to add.

Q. (Leviticus 9:23, 24): Looks like the sacrifices offer another benefit: God coming down to show His glory and power.  The fire of God would also be like a victory appearance for the Israelites: seeing that God is powerful, listening, watching … in control.  The words “gratification” and “reassurance” also come to mind.  Did I read this correctly?

A. Yes, that’s the idea.  God is reminding the people of His power, and it won’t be the last time He uses fire to consume an offering.

Q. (10:1-3): I guess this is a way of saying “pay attention.”  We have to give God the benefit of the doubt that they were not taking God seriously and didn’t just make an honest mistake?  I noticed Aaron was silent.  This must have been very hard for him!  Just a comment in 10:6, I can’t imagine being told not to mourn the death of two children!

A. As far as I can tell, it goes a bit further than “pay attention”: Aaron’s sons were careless with the incense of God, and were struck dead for their carelessness.  It is an important thought for us to remember as well: though we are in good relationship with God through the work of Christ, we should be very careful about trivializing the things of God.

Q. (10:19): So Aaron’s apology to Moses served as repentance, which spared the lives of Aaron’s remaining two sons and possibly Aaron himself?

A. I don’t think Aaron is apologizing for his actions: he says specifically in this verse that he is mourning his son’s deaths by fasting, which is why he didn’t eat the meat.  He is explaining to Moses why he did not fulfill his duties, especially since Moses is right: they cannot leave the Tabernacle until their work is done.  I think God was clear on Aaron’s reasons, which is why it appears that Aaron wasn’t in danger, but this verse is about explaining Aaron’s actions to Moses and the audience.

Q. (11:1-44): Can you tell us why all of these rules about what they can and can’t eat?  Why are split hooves and chewing the cud important?  God says many of these animals that he says are ceremonially unclean are detestable, but he created them.  Can you explain that?

A. There is not a lot of rhyme or reason to the list.  There are some people who think that some animals were on the “unclean” list for health reasons (cows, which are permitted, are generally cleaner animals than pigs, for example) but this is difficult to substantiate or find any consistent logic in.  Basically, what we should take away from the list is that this particular list should be seen as separating the people from all of the other nations around them, which very likely didn’t have any dietary restrictions or perhaps had different ones.  The guidelines allowed the people to be set apart for the work of God, so don’t get to worried about the particular habits — chewing the cud — or animal types — birds — that were permissible to eat.

Q. Can you tell us something about why the Jewish community still follows these laws?  And Christians don’t because we are under a new law.  But, like other things in the OT, many laws are covered by the New Covenant and thus are still practiced.  So, would God be more pleased with us if we would follow these consumption laws or do we just trust God that Jesus sacrifice made these “ceremonially clean” laws null and void?

A. As we’ve discussed, the line between the Old (Jewish) and New (Christian) Covenants is one of legalism (old) verses freedom (new).  Under the New Covenant, we are not required to keep the Law for the purposes of salvation.  The Old covenant is the epitome of legalism: Jews must rely on their own actions — and the actions of the priests — in order to assure their good standing with God (though Judaism has its faith elements as well).  But with Christianity, we have moved beyond the old system into the new, which says that we are free to keep the rules of the OT where they benefit us, but we do not HAVE to.  Since we are not under that system, no amount of keeping the kosher laws or other restrictions makes us “better” or “loved more” in God’s sight: we are loved outside of our actions, and saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) alone.  So if we as a community see value in keeping some of the rules — say the 10 Commandments— we can follow them, but we are not obligated to.

One of the things Jesus talked about in His earthly ministry is that to sum up the Law, you should love God, and love your neighbor (Luke 10:26-28).  So that should be the lens with which we approach the Law as Christians: does following a command to not eat pork adversely affect my walk with God?  (And for some people, the answer is probably “yes”)  If so, then I should not do it.  If not, then it is probably okay, but we should still seek the Spirit’s guidance in “gray areas”.  How about loving neighbor?  Does committing adultery destroy not just my marriage, but likely other families as well?  If the answer is yes, then again, I should not do it, out of love for my neighbor, not to mention my spouse.  While we know that certain things are clearly off limits — murder, lying, etc. — the new way does have the drawback of giving us a lot more “gray” than black and white, so to speak.  So in the New Covenant, we have the freedom to do as we please, with the understanding that we must be discerning — which frankly can be harder than simply having rules — in what actions we take and how they will be seen by others (see 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 for Paul’s discussion of Christian freedom and discerning choices).

(From Leigh An: Wanting a little more background to this last passage that Rob mentioned, I read all of 1 Corinthians 10 and enjoyed the whole message.  I can’t wait for the NT!)

Day 42 (Feb. 11): The Golden Calf, Moses pleas for Israel, Lord’s glory shines on Moses, Covenantx2

Exodus 32-34

Questions & Observations

Q. (Exodus 32:1): The Israelites seem to be so impatient.  But, 40 days does seem like an eternity.  I guess with that many people, the unrest would spread rampantly.  But, I am surprised that Aaron caved so quickly.

A. Yea, this isn’t Aaron’s best moment.  He caves to the pressure quickly — some extra-biblical traditions say his friend was murdered or his family was held hostage, etc. — but there is no excuse for his sin.  Worse yet, he lies to Moses about it when Moses comes down: really, the calf formed itself.  Sure it did…

Q. (32:9-14): It seems like I always here that our Lord is exact, true and unwavering.  But we have seen several times where His chosen have pleaded with him to spare His people.  The conversation sounds like two old friends who confide in one another.  I always thought of God’s directions as final, “It’s my way or the highway.”  But, God makes exceptions.  Last Sunday, our minister talked about giving God some of your time — not just making a date for 15 minutes, saying “Hi, how are you?, the kids OK, and here’s my list of requests, gotta go, amen.”  He said to give him an hour, a half day, even a whole day and just walk with Him.  In these passages, Moses spend days with Him.  Our lives don’t really make room for such a long visit, but we should give him the time.  He is here to help us, counsel, listen and just talk to.  When we spend more time with something meaningless as TV than God, that has to hurt His feelings.  Rob, can you comment on God changing His mind and on how he has, to me, almost human emotions?

A. There is, as one might expect, a lot of discussion about whether God really changed His mind in the sense we are familiar with, but there are important things we can derive from this passage.  To me, God appears to test Moses as He tested Abraham, except this time, there was a whole nation in the balance.  God tells Moses, “go away so I can get angry and kill them,” but Moses is quick to speak up for his people.  They screwed up, Moses says, but its not in your character to wipe them out, you don’t really mean what you’re saying, right God?  It appears Moses was willing to be bold even to God in fighting for his people.  No wonder the writer proclaims Moses and God talked as friends!

Q. (Exodus 32:27-28): Moses just told God to spare the Israelites.  Then, he goes down from the mountain and commands the Levites to kill everyone.  They only killed 3,000.  Can you explain these two conflicting statements — the sparing and not killing everyone?

A. It appears that Moses and the Levites killed in order to re-establish order among the ranks and stop the madness.  That had to be done, or there would be no chance of making amends with God.  What God was suggesting was the wipe out the ENTIRE nation and start again with Moses.  So while Moses’ actions seems violent, it certainly was more desirable then losing the whole nation.

Q. (32:34): What is the Lord referring to when he says, “when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.”

A. It appears to be directly tied to the plague that strikes the people in the next verse.

Q. (32:3): From earlier Exodus reading, it sounded like God wanted to reside among the Israelites when he was giving the particulars of the Ark and Tabernacle construction.  Now, he has changed his mind because of the Israelites actions?

A. Like the decision to destroy the nation, God will heed Moses’ pleading to not abandon His people and will travel with them.  Hang on for the end of the story: it’s really cool.

O. (33:16): LOVE THIS VERSE: Moses says, “For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

Q. (33:21-23): We have talked about this before, but can you remind us of the differences between God talking to Abraham and to Moses.  God appeared as a traveling man to Abraham, but here God says he is too glorious to be seen.

A. Moses is asking for the full deal: he wants to see the full extent of who God is.  And God tells him, you’re asking too much for any person.  God chooses to reveal himself in different ways to different people — I’m thinking of Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel, among others — throughout His story, so it is clear that people do, in some form, see the Lord, but they do not see the full weight of who God is.  That is the implication to me about what would be “too much” for poor Moses to handle.  Still, Moses appears to be able to handle a lot of seeing most of God truly is — as close as any person ever has according to the text.  This is a big part of the reason that he is such a revered figure in Judaism, even bigger than Abraham.

Q. (34:7): I don’t understand “I forgive iniquity, rebellion and sin.  But I don’t not excuse the guilty.”

A. Actually, I think that this is a profound statement of God’s mercy and grace (what He desired to share with Moses about His nature).  I like the way that NIV renders it: “forgiving…rebellion and sin.  Yet, He does not leave the guilty unpunished.”  I think they “yet,” rather than the “but” of NLT, makes the message more clear: God is willing to forgive our sins, but the sins themselves often come with natural punishment that God does not prevent us from suffering.  As we talked about some days ago, it is often children who suffer the worst consequences for the sins of their parents, which is what the end of the verse talks about.  So in this profound statement, God is basically saying, “you and I can be reconciled” by Me forgiving you, but you must still deal with the consequences of your actions.  To me, this points to the reality of God’s grace, but also that God does not wink at sin and say, “oh well, boys will be boys” or whatever.  God takes our sins very seriously — mostly because of their deadly effect on us — even when He grants us forgiveness.

Day 41 (Feb. 10): Dedication of Priests, Ransom to Lord, Wash before entering Tabernacle, consecrate place of God, consecrate Aaron and priests, incense recipe, God appoints craftsmen, Sabbath instructions

Exodus 29-31

 

7Questions & Observations

Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily reading.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Let us know if you have any comments to add.

Q. (Exodus 29:10-28): I for one, am glad that we don’t have to do all of these animal sacrifices today.  I am surprised at all the specifics of these instructions.  I guess I shouldn’t be after seeing the instructions for the Tabernacle.  I’m just wondering what some of the specifics mean, like blood on the right ear lobes, right thumbs, right toes.

A. This ritual symbolized the cleansing of the priesthood of their own sin (by offering the sin offering of the bull and other animals), so that they would be ritually pure in order to accept the offerings of the rest of the community.  We will see this explained further in the next book, Leviticus.  The blood on the ear lobes represented a discerning ear for what God desired of the priests, and the blood on the hands and feet (thumbs/toes) represented the life of service that the priesthood would carry out on behalf of the Israelite community.

Q. (30:8) … from generation to generation.  I notice that many of these instructions are not for a week or two.  The Lord’s instructions imply, to me, that they will be wandering for years and years and years and more.

A. Yes, they will wander for an entire generation (one of the things 40 represents in the Bible is a generation).  But more importantly, these instructions are given for the community for ALL time!  Thus, they will still be true in the time of David and Solomon (though the offerings are made at the temple instead of the tabernacle), and also in the time of Jesus.  For reasons that we will — I’m sure — learn about, Jews today treat the sacrifice system differently, and offer prayers to make their atonement.

Q. (31:16) Gotcha, I think.  Rob, you said the Sabbath was no longer a law, but here it says, “The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation.” This is a covenant obligation for ALL time.

A. That’s true, as we talked about in the last question.  But we as Christians are no longer bound to follow this Law, whereas devout Jews ARE.  This is a big parting of the ways between Jews and Christians: observant Jews still hold to what we call the Old covenant (they of course hold that it is the ONLY covenant!), where as Christians are under the freedom that Christ offers by His eternal sacrifice.  We will see how this gets explained in the NT when writers like Paul and whomever wrote the book of Hebrews start to explain why we are different because of Christ.  So hang on, the answers are coming. You’ll just have to wait until late in the year to get them.  So, there’s your reason to keep reading!

 

Day 36 (Feb. 5): Firstborn dedication to God, road less traveled, the chase is on, parting waters, song of deliverance, quenched thirst

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.

Exodus 13-15

Questions & Observations

Q. (Exodus 13:1): What does it mean by dedicate the first offspring of animals and firstborn son?

A. Since God had delivered the Israelites (including their animals) from the tenth plague, He had by implication “bought” them.  They belonged to Him, and the consecration ceremony (circumcision, and an animal sacrifice where it could be afforded- we’ll see this in Leviticus) was the reminder of the status of the relationship and the importance of the firstborn in God’s deliverance from Egypt.

Q. (13:3): Why can’t they eat bread with yeast?  I’m guessing it’s to remind them of leaving Egypt and that God delivered them from the suffering?

A. Correct.  In more modern traditions (including the NT), yeast has come to be seen as the seed of evil (a little goes a long way), and also the result of human effort, since yeast is cultivated for human use.  Baking bread without yeast would imply a product created without human effort, which is one of the major implications of this story: nothing that happened in the Exodus story was the result of human effort, but rather by God’s desire to teach His people about relationship with Him.  So we might think of unleavened bread as “Godly bread” that requires no human addition.

Q. (13:9): Is this the Ash Wednesday practice celebrating the Lord bringing them out of Israel?  The Passover is a celebration of the Angel of Death passing over, right?  The celebration of the Israelites escaping Egypt is a different celebration?

A. No, Ash Wednesday is unrelated to this story.  A.W. is a Christian tradition marking the 40-day period of Lent that leads up to Easter.  Typically, the spirit was one of repentance and fasting (sound familiar?), and since ashes were a symbol of mourning and repentance, they became the symbol of the date.  Ashes also mark the mortality of our lives, which is another aspect of this date on the church calendar.  Next Wednesday, Feb. 13, is Ash Wednesday, so you’ll have the chance to participate in the day very soon if you so choose.

Q. (13:13): Can you explain the buyback?  And, the braking the donkey’s neck?

A. Oh, more animal brutality!  Will this never end?  OK, so when the NLT uses the word buy back, the NIV renders this “redeem”.  What it meant was that when a male donkey (and by implication other animals, though it may only refer to pack animals- I’m honestly not sure) was born, it was required to be redeemed or “bought back” from God by sacrificing a lamb or young goat (a Passover offering) in its place.  If this was not done (i.e. if the owner didn’t want to provide the sacrifice), the animal was to be killed.  My notes indicate that pack animals such as donkeys were incredibly valuable to this society, which is why it was cost effective to offer up a goat or lamb for a donkey.  So basically, the buy back was another way to remember the way that God delivered the firstborn in Egypt by using the lamb’s blood.

Q. (15:13-17): The Israelites are obviously in awe of God’s power here and happy that they are out of the Egyptians’ rule.  In these verses, are they thinking that going to the promised land will be a walk in the park?

A. Good question, and I don’t really know the answer.  It would appear so.  But bad times will await the Israelites in the desert: this moment of triumph and faith in God and Moses won’t last.

Q. (15:19): Was this the end of the Egyptians?

A. No.  Regardless of the implications of this story, Egypt continued to be a major player in the Middle East, and will be for the duration of this story.  They will actually play a key role in the reasons for the downfall of the Kingdom of Israel.

Day 35 (Feb. 4): Plagues of locusts, darkness, Egypt’s firstborn sons, Passover, Israelites prepare to leave after 430 years in Egypt, Passover requirements

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.

Exodus 10-12

Questions & Observations

Q. Rob, in one of your answers yesterday, you said, the Bible “does not shy away from saying that there are no other spiritual powers that can be used, only that God is superior to them.”  Does the Bible say other deities are real or are you just saying that there are spiritual powers out there and they elude to that they come from Satan?

A. The Bible does not answer that question directly.  Instead, it orders that God alone should be worshipped, and distinguishes between the true God and false gods.  Whether these “false gods” exist could, I think, be interpreted either way.

As you enter the New Testament, I think that you move more and more towards the concept of there is only one God (i.e. all other gods are false), but it certainly does not deny the existence of other spiritual powers such as demons.

Q. (Exodus 10:1): I said that I’m not going to question God so much, but it’s so hard not to.  I’ll go on the offensive rather than defensive.  Here, it sounds like God caused all this devastation to show His people His power and that they should follow Him.  And He is there to protect them and fight their battles.  Maybe it’s showing them more of what is coming their way — they will need to rely on God to survive their journey?  Also, the Egyptians, at least the Pharaoh, did not follow God, so maybe God just decided to play with them for a little bit.  He’s giving the Egyptians payback?

A. God appears to be avenging the suffering that Egypt has inflicted on their Israelite slaves, which are His chosen ones.  In the process, He is teaching the Israelite people that He is faithful and should follow Him.

Q. (10:4): Is there any significance with locusts in the Bible?  Here a plague, but also Jesus eats them in the wilderness, right?

A. John the Baptist ate locusts in the wilderness.  Locusts were (and are) a real problem in the world, and one of the most real examples of a plague on agrarian society.  If you are dependent on crops, and the locusts eat all those crops, you’re in big trouble.  So locusts are seen as a plague of judgment (here, in Joel, and in Revelation, there may be others), sometimes against God’s enemies, and (in Joel) against God’s people.

Q. (10:14-15): How could the Egyptians survive?  There is nothing left.  Pharaoh would have to be so frustrated that God kept hardening his heart.  He has no food left!  God seems to be having fun with Pharaoh.  In our small group, we had a discussion about God does things to bring glory to Himself.  I had never heard this before.  I thought it was kind of egotistical.  But, here we see it plain as day that God is deeply demonstrating his power to the Egyptians to show the Egyptians how glorious He is.  I guess my question here, is how could the Egyptians want to continue this torture?

A. It’s clear from the story that even those closest to Pharaoh were begging him to get rid of the problem people, but they ultimately, had to submit to whatever their king decided.  Since the Egyptians were seen as such an enemy of the Israelites, it appears that their survival was not a priority of the story.  I don’t honestly have a better idea of how to answer the question than that.

Q. (10:16-17):  Again, we see repetition after repetition in these plagues.  We saw it in Job, we saw it when Abraham asked God to spare the righteous in Sodom.  I guess it’s all for emphasis, to make sure we understand God’s point.  On a personal note, I think about how many times something has to happen before I change it for the better and make it a habit.  I keep drinking coffee even though it makes me on edge and sluggish the rest of the day.  I’m working on it.  There are numerous things in my life like that.  You?  I guess it’s the hard-headedness.  Has God hardened our hearts so it’s a real challenge to choose to follow God?

A. This appears to be a special circumstance, for this type of phrasing (hardening the heart) is not used again.  It appears that this story is meant to be unique.  One change that takes place in the midst of the story of Christianity in the NT is that the Spirit becomes a living presence in the heart of believers.  That presence of God in our hearts is one that always desires to bring us CLOSER to God, not to harden our stance away from Him.  So, I would say you as a Christian (rather than one who is counted an enemy of God) has anything to worry about from God hardening your heart against Him.

O. (11:4-6): I wonder how Moses felt to be the one warning about these plagues and giving God the “go” signal with his staff.  This was a guy who had run away from Egypt because he was afraid he would be killed for murdering an Egyptian, then he kind of hid as a shepherd. And finally, he begged God not to make him leader of the Israelites.  What a change for Moses!

Q. (12:5): I struggle with this because God asks for animals with no defects and that they be one year old.  What is the significance of this?  I thought his creations were equal.  I guess I’m thinking of man.  From what we have read, he does not give priority to those humans who are near perfect.  But, for sacrificial animals, the Lord wants the best?  I guess animals are different from humans in that regard?  As a vegan, the whole sacrifice thing is never going to be easy for me to swallow.  Pun intended!

A. The significance of the one-year-old animal without a defect is the sacrifice would be required on the part of the sacrificer.  You couldn’t give God just any old (or sick, or deformed) animal.  You had to provide an animal in its prime and not one you were going to get rid of anyway.  This goes back to giving God our best or “firstfruits”.

Q. (12:8): Why bread with no yeast?  Takes up less space for traveling?

A. Nope.  It’s ready sooner because you don’t have to wait for it to rise.

Q. (12:23): I never thought about the OT blood symbolism applying to Jesus dying on the cross.  Just as the blood allows God to spare the Israelites from the plague, Jesus blood shed spares us from eternal punishment.  Does this work for you, Rob?

A. Yes.  When John the Baptist speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God in John 1, I suspect this is at least partially the image he had in mind.  The idea here is that the blood itself is what wards off the angel of death, an idea that Christians definitely came to connect with.

Q. (12:24): I guess this is speaking to us.  Christians are still supposed to observe the Passover?  I never have.  It has not been a requirement in the churches I have belonged to.

A. We are no longer under the Law, so we are not obligated to keep the Passover.  This does not mean we cannot participate in one or learn from it.  Something I have seen recently in the churches I have been a part of have connected with the idea that the Last Supper from the Gospels was, in fact, a Passover meal.  Jesus took the opportunity do use the unleavened bread (which, for reference, is kind of like pita bread) and wine that were already a part of the ceremony to talk about the new way God was doing to do things through Jesus (i.e. the new covenant).  So, while we don’t HAVE to keep the Passover, I think there is great value in understanding it, and maybe sharing in one at some point.

Q. (12:48): Sure glad I’m a woman!  Does the Passover law still apply — that all males who want to partake in it must be circumcised?

A. Ha!  For religious Jews such as Hassidic and Orthodox, I presume the answer is yes, but I am not certain.

Q.  (12:51): Leading the Israelites out of Egypt would be quite an undertaking for Moses.  With women and children, there were easily 2 million Israelites.  Moses didn’t have a microphone.  How could he communicate what they were to do so quickly?  Nothing is impossible with the Lord!

A. One of the things that the text will talk about after the journey to Sinai is the way that the different tribes moved with the Tabernacle.  Nope, no microphones, so I would imagine it was an incredibly difficult task: something God alone could bring the people through.

Day 34 (Feb. 3): Plagues of water to blood, frogs, gnats, livestock, boils, hail

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.

Exodus 7:14-9:35

Questions & Observations

Q. (Exodus 7:15): Is there any significance in why God chose a staff to demonstrate his power?

A. The staff would have been a powerful symbol of God’s power.  Shepherds such as Moses would have been given a staff in a ceremony when he entered the vocation: this staff was his life.  Not only was it used for obvious things like bringing back sheep and support when a shepherd walked, but it was probably used to fight animals and kill snakes.  Shepherds, still to this day, mark their staffs with various indentations and words, to form something like a personal journal.  So the staff represented the vocation.  God had then ordered Moses to change his vocation, but to keep the symbol of it, and apply it to his new purposes.  This is not the last time in the OT that a staff will play a central role as a conduit of God’s power.

Q. (8:18): Any particular reason why Pharaoh’s magicians couldn’t duplicate this plague?

A. I don’t know if there is something specific about the plague of gnats (some other versions render this lice or mosquitos, it is hard to tell the exact word the writer meant).  But there is an important shift in the narrative.  For the first two plagues, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to “match” the plague (by whatever means they did so as we discussed yesterday), and so Pharaoh could consider himself and his gods to have “not been beaten” by the Hebrew’s God, since his men could do it too.  But after this plague, he loses that excuse, and is forced to take personal responsibility for his actions for not letting the people go.  I think the magicians failure is all about God escalating the pressure on the king.

Q. I saw a TV documentary that showed how the plagues can be backed up scientifically.  So, is it OK to say that scientifically the plagues could have happened or do we just say that it was an act of God.  God did create science.

A. I’ve heard this as well.  One thing I read mentioned that all of the events that take place (even the darkness) are part of the normal cycle of life in Egypt.  Just as a couple of examples, silt that flowed up the Nile from Ethiopia can turn the river a shade of red- and cause a growth of a red algae that can kill fish and make the water undrinkable.  If this happened, then animals such as frogs (the second plague) would have left the water and relocated to other areas.  The insects (3 and 4) would not have been eaten by the frogs, and could have reached high levels of growth without the predation.  The flies could have spread bacteria and diseases to the livestock and boils to the people (5 and 6).  You get the idea.  Even the more powerful plagues were part of the ecosystem of Egypt: thunder and hailstorms, locusts, and giant sandstorms (called khamsin) that could stir up so much dust, they could block the sun.

Two other things are worth mentioning here: the clear implication of the text is that God is bringing these events about, even if He is using naturally occurring phenomenon to do so.  While it can be interesting to speculate about the “natural” origins of these plagues, to do so is ultimately to miss the point: God is demonstrating His power in Egypt in order to free His people.

The other side of the coin that frequently goes unmentioned in discussions such as this one is the association between natural parts of the Egyptian ecosystem and the gods that they worshipped.  Several of the plagues target particular Egyptian deities, and the events that take place would have been a way of the Hebrew God proving His superiority over these false Egyptian gods.  One goddess, Hapi, was the goddess of the Nile, who was revered as giving life to Egypt.  The water to blood plague would have been seen as a clear defeat of this goddess.  Other gods and goddesses were seen as animals, including frogs (plague 2) and livestock (cows, goats, etc., that died in plague 5).  One of the most powerful gods in Egypt was Ra, the god of the sun. The darkness of the second to last plague (i.e. the blocking of the sun) would have been a clear insult to his power.  So while there are natural phenomena that would have been a part of this story, there is certainly religious significance to the story as well, as the God of the Hebrews showed His power over the natural world and the deities of Egyptian worship.

Q. Just a study note.  Is there any difference between Israelites, Hebrew and Jews?

A. In the language of the Bible, no.  These terms can be used interchangeably.  While the origin of the word Hebrew is the least clear of the three (it’s the oldest), the others are fairly straightforward.  The word Hebrew appears to be from Genesis 10:21 and 25, where a son of Shem (Noah’s son) is named Eber.  (Incidentally, the name Semite comes from being descended from Noah’s son Shem).  Abraham is called a Hebrew in Gen 14.

Jacob is renamed Israel (wrestles with God) in his story from Genesis, and therefore people from his line would be called Israelites.

The word Jew comes from a more specific and later subset of the Israelites: the descendants of the tribe of Judah (and Benjamin).  These two tribes, along with Levites, are the Israelites who survive in the Southern Kingdom after most of the other tribes are wiped out in the story recorded in 1 and 2 Kings.  That’s why Jew is the most recent of the three terms.

Hope that helps!