Day 255 (Sept. 12): Zechariah’s vision of horses and chariots, Jeshua to serve as king and priest of Jerusalem, Tattenai and others question Temple’s reconstruction, King Darius approves rebuilding, Israelites ask to be released from fasting and mourning, God promises that Jerusalem will be a destination for surrounding nations to come to worship God

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.

Zechariah 6:1-15

Ezra 5:3-17

Ezra 6:1-14a

Zechariah 7-8

Questions & Observations

Q. (Zechariah 6:6): What happened to the red horses stated in v. 2?

A. I’ve seen a couple of answers to this question, but honestly I don’t find them especially satisfactory.  It might be that the red horse (symbolizing war) didn’t need to go anywhere, as war was all around Israel and therefore there was no particular destination needed.  One commentary I looked at indicated that the red horses’ job might be to patrol the whole earth and therefore is not assigned a direction.  Like I said, meh: I don’t find either of those especially compelling.  So I would say that the “destination” for the red chariot is a mystery or unrevealed by Zechariah.

Q. (6:11): I thought you said that “Branch” was a name for the Messiah.  Here it’s used to say Jeshua.

A. Remember that Messiah or Christ simply means “anointed,” chosen by God.  So, in a sense, Jeshua (same name as Jesus please note, just in Aramaic instead of Greek.  Both names, along with “Joshua” in Hebrew, mean the same thing: the Lord saves) is chosen to fill the office of High Priest.  There are three offices in Judaism that were anointed, usually with olive oil: King, Priest, and Prophet.  And while Christ personifies the ultimate expression of each of these, that does not mean that others do not fill the office until His reign.  Jeshua is the High Priest before the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14).

Q. (Ezra 5:3-17): Why were these leaders questioning the rebuilding of the Temple so much?  Did they feel threatened?

A. I am not sure.  They may have just been concerned about the potential threat to the empire, but they clearly gave the benefit of the doubt to the Jewish workers, as they did not stop them from working while they checked up on things.

Q. (6:6-8): I guess King Darius put Tattenai and company in their place, but why should they have to pay for the reconstruction?  They are to blame for the Temple becoming defiled?

A. No, they are not to blame, but are rather officials of Darius, and they were being given orders to use treasury money to pay for the efforts, since Darius controlled the area.  So in a sense, Darius is paying for the cost himself.

Q. (Zechariah 7:4-6): I like this message because whenever I hear someone brag about things they are doing for the Lord, I just wonder if they are doing them for the Lord or to get an “A” for good deeds.  If they are bragging, I wouldn’t think they would be doing it for God.

A. Amen.

Q. (8:1-23): There is so much energy in this reading.  I would have loved to have been there.  I’m just wondering what modern-day Jerusalem is like.  Is there any holiness left to it?  Do you have any knowledge of what state it’s in?

A. Alas, I know almost nothing about its present state, other than there are holy sites of three of the great monotheistic religions in the world there.  Pilgrims of each of these faiths journey to the Holy city every year, but sadly, I don’t know much.  Honestly, I could probably tell you more about what it WAS like than what it IS like.  I would, however, love to go and find out for myself.

Day 199 (July 18): Judah’s worthless treaty with Egypt, a warning for Judah, those who choose God will be blessed, sorrow for those why rely on Egypt, Israel’s ultimate deliverance, the downfall of Assyria

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.

Isaiah 30-31:9

Isaiah 32:1-20

Isaiah 33:1-24

Questions & Observations

Q. (Isaiah 30:1-7): Now this is really happening, right?  It’s not a prophecy?  Why would Judah ally with Egypt when they are so far away and across a desert?

A. Judah was seeking an ally against Assyria and the nations that would follow her, such as Babylon, the nation that will bring about Judah’s destruction.  In desperation, Judah reaches out to Egypt for protection (Egypt had great influence in this area for most of Israel’s history and used the area as a trade route).  But Isaiah is still prophesying: those who ally with Egypt will be humiliated for doing so.

O. (30:15b): I like these words “resting in me!”  Among our stresses, or Judah’s, we can rest, having faith in Him and knowing He will take care of us.

Q. (30:19b): I know that this charge is directed at Judah.  I think we can apply to our lives.  My husband always says he feels bad asking God for help.  If someone asks him if they can pray for him, he has a hard time coming up with something.  He says he feels blessed and doesn’t feel like he needs to ask for anything.  I think he gets this to, or at least I do, from the fact that we are to humble ourselves toward God.  And, asking for help would mean that God isn’t providing enough, when, in fact, He provides plenty.  I, on the other hand, differ.  I think of God as a parent.  He wants to help us.  If we don’t ask for help, then we are taking on our problems by ourselves and that’s not what He wants.  He wants us to seek Him, right?  And, acknowledging that we need help shows that we know God is in charge?

A. God does indeed desire for us to seek Him (Jeremiah 29:12-14), but there is no need to ask for help if there is no help needed.  We are not required to ask simply for the sake of asking.  But it sure is nice to know that there is help out there, just a “prayer away” as it were, when the help is needed.

Q. (30:21-22): Are these verses talking about the Holy Spirit here?  To me, it’s saying that if you ask for God’s help, He will surround you and you will know that God’s hand is in your life.

A. The Spirit of God is clearly at work in these verses, and I would say you have judged them correctly.

O. (30:26): Here is the number 7 again which signifies completeness.  See Day 3’s reading for more on the significance of several numbers used repeatedly in the Bible.

Q. (31:8): Judah and Israel are constantly at odds with the Assyrians.  What is it about Assyria?  Why are they so strong?  Why are they enemies?

A. Assyria is a powerful nation that is, frankly, much more interested in Egypt then Judah.  That’s because Egypt represents the other major power in this area.  So, basically, Judah is stuck in the middle between these two rivaling superpowers.  It’s not so much that Judah is the “enemy.”  Judah is a meaningless spec of dirt to Assyria, but it is a spec of dirt that is right in the path they desire to go in order to move against Egypt.

Q. (32:1-3): Is this a prophecy?  Who is coming?  Before I started BibleBum, I didn’t know much Old Testament past the Exodus except for a few stories here and there.  And then, I know more of the NT, well about Jesus’ birth and resurrection.  So, anytime I read scripture about a king coming, I think the author is referring to Jesus.

A. One of the “signs” of the restored kingdom is a righteous king from David’s line who will rule.  And Judah/Israel (once restored) will see this King in the incarnation of Jesus, but He will be a king like they have never seen before.  As Jesus Himself said, His kingdom is not of this world at all (John 18:36)!

Day 79 (March 20): Moses reviews Covenant, God shows mercy for those who stray but return, life choices, Joshua is Israel’s new leader, Book of Instruction, Israel’s disobedience predicted

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.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.

Deuteronomy 29:2-31:29

Questions & Observations

Q. (Deuteronomy 29:29): This is an interesting verse.  Has God said this before that there are secrets that He has not revealed?

A. I don’t think it has come up to this point, but honestly, there will always be things about the infinite God that are incomprehensible to the finite “us.”  I don’t really like the way that this verse in translated in this version.  The NIV makes Moses’ point more carefully.  The focus is not on God and His secrets, i.e. things He has not revealed, but rather on the Law as a blessing to the people and future generations of their children.

O. (30:1-10): Yeah!  God has mercy on the Israelites.  I thought that once they sinned, they are doomed.  God is merciful.

O. (30:9-10): This passage made me smile.  It’s nice to know we can delight God.  So many times, it feels like we can either make Him happy or make Him mad.  But, the thought that we can bring joy to His heart brings joy to my heart, much like when I look at my girls and think how lucky I am that God gave them to me.

Q. (30:17): I know these commandments are for the Israelites — I never really differentiated that rules were for them and not necessarily for us today until Rob explained that — nevertheless, we can still learn from them, right?  Here Moses is telling the Israelites that if they worship other gods, they will be destroyed.  There are other false gods to worship, but I think that once you become a Christian, you are not likely to be lured by other cults, religions, etc., but we have idolatry of today: TV, work, temptations, food, alcohol, sports, anything that we give so much importance to that we forget about God.  Would you say that applying this passage to today in this way is accurate?

A. I think it is.  You have begun to see the way that we should think about idolatry today: as anything that competes with God for our attention and time.  It is anything that we trust in besides God.  Having said that, I think that we as a society are moving toward a more open view of mixed religious theology.  We usually call it pluralism, and say things like, “all roads lead to God.”  Unfortunately, this goes exactly against what Moses is teaching the people here.  We must be very careful about allowing other religious ideas to infiltrate our faith.  Intermixing their faith in God with other faiths will get the Israelites in a lot of trouble.

O. (31:1-8): Just reading this gets my heart pounding.  I imagine the Israelites thinking about how big and numerous these inhabitants were and here God said He is going to conquer them.  And now, since they did not actually see the miracles in Egypt, there may be many who doubt these commands.  But, Moses keeps reminding them of the deliverance and miracles and I’m sure their parents did — the loyal, wise ones anyway.

Q. (31:12): What is in the Book of Instruction?  The curses and the blessings?  Was this book placed in the Ark of the Covenant also?  Do any of these exist in museums today?  That’s another question.  Can you give us a nutshell version of where all of the scrolls that form the Bible were found?

A. The Book of Instruction is the Law.  It is basically some form of the previous four books we have been reading: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  I suspect the versions of the books that we have been reading were edited together to combine the instructions of the Law with the journey in the wilderness that we have been reading about.  There will be various references to copies of the Law throughout the OT, but it appears a copy of the Law did end up in the Ark.  It is very unlikely, however, that it was a copy that would have been used.  It is likely that other copies made by the priests were used for everyday study.

Regarding your other question, you’ve touched upon a complex subject: the transmission of the OT.  There’s a few things to note.  First, the oldest known copy of the complete OT in Hebrew is called the Masoretic Text (usually MT), which is a medieval copy of the OT from the Middle Ages.  We have portions of the OT that are found throughout the Middle East, but there’s a catch.  In the late BC era, the OT was translated into ancient Greek, to create a document known as the Septuagint (from the Greek word for seventy from the number of translators who worked on it).  Most of the ancient copies of the OT are Septuagints: Greek, not Hebrew copies.  Modern Jews reject the use of the Septuagint (probably because it’s the version that many early Christians, including Paul, used), and feel that only the Hebrew is valid for translation.  So while we have many fragments of the OT in Hebrew, and several copies in Greek, the oldest complete text comes from the Middle Ages.

I hear the questions rising now: isn’t that a long time?  Yes it is, but one of the coolest discoveries of modern Biblical archeology was the discovery of what is known as the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s and 50s- found near the Dead Sea in the West Bank.  This was a collection of nearly a thousand clay pots that contained scrolls of various sizes.  These scrolls contained various portions of nearly every book of the OT (the exception was Esther, for reasons that don’t concern us here).  The ultimate find, however, was a full-length copy of the Book of Isaiah on a 12-foot scroll.  The coolest part of the discovery: the text of Isaiah matched more than 99% of the Masoretic text, despite being more than a thousand years older!  This, I think, tells us the great care with which Jews have copied their sacred text (and the way early Christians transmitted theirs), and gives me great confidence that the copies of the Bible that we have today are accurate representations of what the original author and editors desired to write about God.

O. (31:16-18) I doubt this is news that sits well with Moses, especially on the day of his death!

Q. (31:29): So much for peace in the valley of milk and honey.  Why does the disobedience have to continue?  From reading the Bible thus far, it seems that God does have a hand in what disasters strike.  Is this just more of God testing to see who deserves His blessings?

A. The people continue to rebel against God.  And just because God can “see it coming” as it were, does not make the people any less responsible for their actions, which is part of what God is telling Moses here.  The purpose of the curses, the droughts, the conquest by other tribes, these are all tools used by God to call His people back to Him.  None of us deserve the blessings God provides for us.  Like the Israelites, our call is to be faithful to God, and He will handle the rest.

Tune in tomorrow for the Song God gave Moses to share with the Israelites.

Day 78 (March 19): Offering of first crops of new land, obey God’s commands, curses, blessings,

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.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.

Deuteronomy 26-29:1

Questions & Observations

Q. (Deuteronomy 27:15-26): I don’t remember the implementation of curses thus far.  How is “cursing” different from laws, rules and covenants?

A. As this passage is laid out, the curses have nothing to do with the Law.  Where the blessings and curses come into play is they are the result of obedience to God’s law (blessing) or disobedience/rejection of God’s law (curse).  Don’t think of the curses or blessings as being in a separate category from the regulations, they are the result of them.  That covers the laws and rules part of the question, and basically, Moses is telling people THIS is the covenant: if you obey, God will bless you like you have never known, and if you disobey, God will make you wish you were never born.  In the book of Judges in particular, we will see periods of both: disobedience brings about curse (the people are defeated in combat, crops don’t grow, etc.) and this, in turn, causes the people to repent of their sin, at which point, the curse is lifted.  Repentance will play a big role in the way the rest of the story will unfold in the OT.

Q. (Deuteronomy 28:15-68): Wow.  I don’t see that the Israelites really had a choice not to follow God.  I don’t know if this text is foreshadowing what will happen — that people are cursed in future readings because of disobedience — or the curses scare them so bad that they dare not disobey.

A. As I mentioned in the previous question, we will actually see instances of both.  Blessings and curses will also be central themes in the book of Judges, which we should be getting to in a week or two.  Hang in there.

Blessings!  See you tomorrow!

Day 18 (Jan. 18): Jacob gives blessings to descendants, Jacob foretells future of sons, Jacob dies, Joseph reassures brothers, Joseph dies

Genesis 47:28

Questions & Observations

Q. (47:28): There is about a 140-year discrepancy when this story took place?  Can you explain anything about how scientists have a hard time pinning down the dates?

A. I am honestly surprised that they can even make the two estimates that they have.  I feel that the dates they suggest are a bit too specific for my taste, mostly because you are talking about a period that was more than 3,500 years ago.

Here’s how it breaks down: we have some dating and archeological evidence for the united kingdom of Israel (which was ruled by Saul, David, and Solomon- recorded in 1 and 2 Samuel) that exists somewhere around 1000 BC.  The OT tells us that each of these men ruled for 40 years each, so there is a 120 year period (roughly) of united leadership before the nation fractures and falls apart after Solomon’s death (recorded in 1 and 2 Kings and Chronicles).  So basically, from there, scientists (this would include archeologists, but also linguists and other fields of study) have to work their way back to the previous events as presented in the OT (there are some scholars who doubt the authenticity of most of the writings that predate David’s kingdom, so that option is “on the table” too, though I think these scholars are TOO skeptical).

Working our way back, the OT (mostly Joshua) tells us that Joshua and the armies conquered Canaan after 10 years or so, and that the Israelites were in the desert 40 years, and in Egypt around 400 years.  So now we are back 450 years from around 1000 BC (so somewhere around 1450 or 1500 BC — you see we’ve already got a “rough” date for anything further back).  From there, you can work your way back using different versions of the ages of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, but you’re really only going to be able to estimate the dates from there.  The two numbers that you see probably represent a more “conservative” and more “liberal” dating of the event in question.  It’s at least partially guess work: that’s the best we can do.

Q. (47:29): I think we saw this practice somewhere else for making an oath.  What is the significance of a hand under the thigh?

A. Um….Hum.  See, here’s the thing, when the Bible speaks of the hand “under the thigh”, that’s not really an accurate translation — it means grasping something, uh, near the thigh on a man.  (We saw this once before with Abraham’s servant who went find Isaac a wife)  Basically, by grasping the object in question, the person swearing the oath is basically swearing on the family line.  (Isn’t Bible knowledge fun!)

Q.  (48:3) Can we talk about blessings?  We have read where God blesses people, Jacob got the blessing from Abraham before he died.  Abraham blessed Joseph and his sons in 49:15-16, which is a beautiful tribute from Abraham to God for all He has done for him.  This may sound like a silly question, but what is the nature of a blessing?  Do all blessings come from God?  Are they a hope, or something definite?  Today, we say we have many blessings.  The noun form is easy to understand, it just means all of the goodness around.  But, when someone says, “May God bless you,” do we have the right to say that?  I don’t feel that anyone can speak on God’s behalf.  Or, is it a request to God?

A. In the ancient world, it was understood that rulers and patriarchs had a power that extended beyond their physical power: the ability to bless and curse.  It was thought that the gods (or God in this case) was especially receptive to a dying patriarch’s wishes for his children or others that he wished to pass his “blessing” on to.  So in our case, the blessing is something of a request to God (not a promise God makes if you will), but we could most clearly think of it as something of a magical pronouncement that had the power to accomplish what the speaker requested, whether for good (blessing) or evil (curse).  This is why it is such an important part of the story of say Isaac and Jacob and Esau, or Jacob and Joseph in this case.

O. (48:19): Like Jacob himself was chosen by God instead of his older brother for his father Abraham’s blessing, Jacob says that Joseph’s younger son, Ephraim, will be blessed more than his older brother, Manasseh.  As we have seen before, birth order does not seem to be important to God.

Q. (49:7): We talked about blessings.  Let’s talk about curses.  Is Jacob speaking for God here?  Does cursing end the men’s bad behavior or say it will cause their ruin?

A. The curses here are the result of Simeon and Levi’s violent actions in avenging their sister (which was allowable, but didn’t exactly help Jacob’s reputation), as well as some other violence that we are not privy to.  While Jacob’s curse did not cause the ruin of Simeon and Levi’s descendants, they did come true.  In the book of Joshua, the land is divided up by casting lots, and the blessings or curses that are mentioned here seem to have their “pay off” in that story.  Simeon’s descendants are chosen by lot (basically seen as God’s will) to receive land within Judah’s allotment — reducing the prominence of his tribe despite being one of the oldest sons.  Levi’s descendants had a central role in the religious life of Israel: they became the priesthood.  But because of this central religious role, the tribe of Levi received no land to themselves, and were dispersed among the other 11 tribes.  Thus, we see how the curse comes to fruition: both Simeon and Levi’s descendants see themselves dispersed among the other tribes and lose their political power.

Q. (49:10) This is getting exciting.  Here we see that “the one it to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor” is Jesus Christ?  So, Judah’s descendants will rule the Israelites until their No. 1 descendant arrives, Jesus?  Am I reading this right or totally off base?

A. Well, you’ve read it correctly, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.  What Jacob is saying here is that the line of kings will come from Judah’s line — this is, kingship will be the most important contribution of this line.  There’s at least one little hiccup: Saul, the first king of Israel, is not of Judah’s line, for reasons that will become clear sometime down the road (it’s not worth going into now).  But after him, David and his descendants will mostly rule (I’m not sure of the exact pedigree), but as you get further and further from David and Solomon, the line becomes corrupt, and before the destruction of Jerusalem (way way way down the line), God declares in Jeremiah 22 that a descendent of David (via Solomon) will no longer sit on the throne, so the family was cut off.  This was the last king that Israel would have (around 580 BC) before Jesus came to rule.  So, there was a period of almost 600 where Israel had NO king before Jesus (who was a king in a different sense anyway), but up until that point, the line of David was (almost) always in the picture, even if they became corrupt.

Q.  (49:1-28): Oh, where to start on this one?  Can you tell us what we need to take from Jacob’s blessings to his sons?

A. As I’ve been mentioning, some of this information will come into play during the land distribution in Joshua, and I think it will be mostly clear then.  Two things come into play here: Reuben (as firstborn) should be entitled to the “best” blessing, but he screwed up (no pun intended) and got passed over.  We’ve already discussed Simeon and Levi.  The big “winners” in this are Judah (which we discussed), Joseph (it doesn’t say it here, but Joseph’s two sons that Jacob blesses get the inheritance meant for Joseph — one of them gets Levi’s place so the math still comes out to 12), and Benjamin (who gets a good blessing despite being the youngest).  I don’t think there is much else to discuss here for the other sons, but if we come across something later that references that section, I will mention it.

O. (49:29-32): Jacob must have been saddened that he was not able to bury Rachel in the cave with his father, grandfather and Leah since she died alongside the road.

O. (49:33): I picture Jacob here so relaxed.  He has seen his son Jacob that he thought was dead, he has seen Jacob’s sons, the ones that will carry on the blessing, he has given his blessing, and he has nothing left.  This reminds me when my grandma passed.  I was fortunate to be with her when she left.  She was 96, a devout Christian and had a fairly healthy life.  She was lying there, taking long, slow breaths with the help of an oxygen mask.  We were the only two in the room … that I could see.  She kept trying to take off her oxygen, but I kept putting it back on and she would take another deep breath like she had just come up from being under water. She had her eyes shut, but she still knew what she was doing.  She wanted the mask off!  It was late.  I had flown overseas to see her.  I finally nodded off and she had pulled the mask aside again.  I stirred and tried to put it back on her, but she had gone.  She looked so peaceful.  My neighbor said that when his dad died, the ones around could see him going through judgment.  His dad was talking to someone.  He said, “Wait, they’ve got some questions for me.”  Then, he said, “OK, I can cross now.”  Then he said when his mom went through judgment, it was terrifying.  That’s not a great note to end on, so does anyone else have a story they would like to share of witnessing someone going to heaven?

Q. (50:16-17): This is a lie?  I don’t remember anyone ever telling Jacob the truth about his brothers selling Joseph into slavery.  Is the important part here Joseph’s recognition that it was God’s work?

A. Yep, the fellas are lying to try and protect themselves, but it doesn’t matter.  Joseph has forgiven them and seen the way that God worked everything out.

Q.  Do we know anything outside of what the Bible says about Joseph’s death?  He was the second to youngest, yet his older brothers outlived him?

A. The story doesn’t indicate how many brothers were still alive, but it appears that at least some of them outlived him.  We have no record of any sort about Joseph or his brothers in Egypt as far as I know outside of the Old Testament.

O. (50:24) I have spoken of this before, but I think it’s worth highlighting again.  It almost feels like God did not have the outward relationship with Joseph as he did with Isaac and Abraham.  Here he says, “God will surely come to help you …” which sounds like there is a hint of a doubt.  It seems that he is passing this message down from what his father had been told by God.  We never hear God talking directly to Joseph, only in his ability to interpret dreams.  But, obviously, Joseph was filled with the Spirit.  To me this just goes to show that the relationship God has with one person can appear different than any other relationship.  We should not compare how others revere Him, just be happy they know God and you know God in your own special way.  We all have different gifts!