Day 262 (Sept. 19): Nehemiah calls for registration of exiles, list of exiled families with a count for each, Israelites settle in their towns, Ezra reads Law of Moses, Nehemiah tells them to celebrate for this sacred day

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.

Nehemiah 7:4-8:12

Questions & Observations

Q. (Nehemiah 7:65): We have talked about casting lots before as a way of asking God to identify or choose.  Can you explain the process in more detail?

A. We covered this way, way back in March (the 28th to be exact, day 87), but I am happy to reexamine the question.  The two stones: seen here: http://www.bibleandscience.com/store/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=29, would have basically served as the “yes” and “no” for questions that the High Priest asked.  In the Joshua story — as we were looking at when we first addressed the topic — we saw that the priest would basically put the question or names on paper, and then cast the two stones towards the question to determine the answer.  That’s basically all there is to it.  It was one of the responsibilities of the High Priest, but both Christians and Jews have moved away from the practice.

Q. (7:66-73a): At first, I thought 42,000 people in one city is a pretty large number.  (I still can’t imagine cities as big as they were back then.  I always imagine small because of the more physical lifestyle and it was just long ago.)  But, when you consider that this was all of the men (not women, children, servants, etc.?), then it’s not much when they scatter throughout all of Israel.

A. The nation was significantly smaller than the size under David or even Joshua, but keep in mind that’s only the people who returned: there were still people, including Jews, there: the king used them to grow crops on his land.

Q. (8:8): Here they say the Book of God.  It’s the same as Book of Moses or Moses’ Law, right?

A. Yes.  Many Jews would still use that title today.

Day 66 (March 7): Israelite men defile themselves with Moabite women, God’s fury sends plague killing 24,000, second census of troops,

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 25-26

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 25:1-18): In 25:5, Moses ordered Israel’s judges to kill those who had defiled themselves.  It sounds like to me that this order was not carried out except for Phinehas killing Zimri who had taken a Midianite woman into his tent.  That is why 24,000 died?

A. I would assume that the story recorded of the Midianite woman is a representative example of the callousness that these men showed for God in this instance.  The man in question brought a foreigner into the presence of Moses and the leaders — not to mention God’s presence — at the Tabernacle: this is a huge violation of the Law and a major affront to God’s holiness, which I suspect is what prompted the violent reaction.  The man appeared to be flaunting his defiance of the leadership!  I think we can safely assume that other “ringleaders,” as the text called them, were executed, but not before many thousands of people had died in a plague that spread among the people.

Q. (26:5-50): The tribes’ census doesn’t mean anything to me, given my knowledge.  Is there anything that we should pay special attention to?

A. As we will discuss below, while the book of Numbers is not carefully dated, nearly 40 years have passed since the original census has been taken at the beginning of the text.  These two censuses are a big part of the reason this book gets its name: the Israelites are numbered twice, at the beginning of their wandering, and again at the end.  Regarding the importance of THIS census, if you compare the numbers at the beginning and end of the text, you see that there are roughly the same number of Israelites ready to serve in the army (around 600,000), but the tribes from which they come has changed a bit: Simeon’s tribe is the biggest loser of people — nearly 60K in the first, only 22K in the second.  This leads some scholars to speculate that the 24,000 who were killed were from Simeon’s tribe — at least partly because the flagrant offender from the previous question was from Simeon’s tribe.  The big “winners” in the second census are Benjamin — 35,000 to 45,000 — and Joseph’s son Manasseh — 32,000 to 52,000 — but the reasons for this are not given.

Q. (26:51-56): I assume God is telling him to divide up the land of Canaan, right?  But, they are not even there yet.

A. Moses is getting the instructions of how the land of promise is going to be divided up: larger tribes get more than smaller ones, and also individual plots of land were to be given by lot, essentially allowing God Himself to divide up the land as He saw fit.  I’m sure we will revisit this in Joshua when it actually happens, and we can talk about how the process was actually carried out.

Q. (26:64): Has it already been 40 years?  I thought the Israelites had quite a ways to go yet before they were permitted to go to Canaan.  There are songs and sayings that talk about “The Lord’s Army.”  Is this what the census has comprised?  God made a new census because so many had died and they didn’t have a right to be in His army anyway?  God wanted to start with a clean slate?

A. Other than a handful of people, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, etc., the vast majority of the people counted in the previous census, who were more than 20 years old 40 years ago, remember, are dead.  God is indeed starting fresh, with a new army that is made up of a new generation of Israelites, and they will be getting their new leader soon in Joshua.  The invasion of the Promised Land is coming as soon as we get the farewell sermon of Moses.

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.