Day 265 (Sept. 22): Dedication of Jerusalem’s wall, offerings for temple, Nehemiah leaves and evil waltzes in, Nehemiah returns and restores Jerusalem, unworthy sacrifices, warning to the priests

100 Days to go!  And, just 2 days until we hit the NT!

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 12:27-13:6

Nehemiah 5:14-19

Nehemiah 13:7-31

Malachi 1-2:9

Questions & Observations

Q. (Nehemiah 12:27-43): The wall is so incredibly important to Jerusalem because it protects them (and notably the temple and treasures from enemies), makes it easier to break away from ruling kingdoms and not pay their “taxes” or whatever they are called and it would better control who comes into their city — keeping those out who may defile them.  Is this right?  Are there any other reasons that a wall is so important?

A. I don’t get the impression that Judah wanted a wall so they could revolt against the king: that was certainly not Nehemiah’s plan, but other than that you have it right.  In the ancient world, a city wasn’t really considered a city without a wall: the “regulation” that came with the wall (what goes in, what goes out) was central to this idea of a city.

Q. (13:15-18): Keeping the Sabbath holy and a day of rest is obviously a very important law for God.  If it’s so important, why is it deflated in the NT?

A. Oh, let’s not spoil that when we’re so close.  Patience.

Q. (13:19): I have heard that the Sabbath back then was actually on Saturday.  Is this right?  If so, how has it ended up on Sunday?

A. You are correct, it is Saturday.  Here’s what I responded when asked this very question in our section on the 10 Commandments way back Exodus 20 (Day 38, Feb 7th):

Observant Jews and Seventh Day Adventists will tell you that the Sabbath is Saturday.  Sunday is seen as the first day of the week, following the Sabbath.  So we should think of Sunday as “Day 1” in the Creation story.  This is significant when it comes to the story of Jesus and His resurrection.  Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday, and the implications of that are significant: the resurrection intentionally spoke of a new creation story: everything was new in light of what Christ had done.  Two factors played a role in the loss of Saturday as the formal Sabbath of Christians: Christians began to gather on Sundays (called the first day of the week in the NT) to commemorate the resurrection, and because Christians came to see themselves as free from the requirements of the Law, they were not obligated to take the Sabbath on Saturdays.  Thus, most Christians would, I think, tell you that the Sabbath was Sunday if you asked.  As we discussed yesterday [Day 37], there is value in taking a day of rest for the purpose of connection with family and God, but we are NOT required to, and we are certainly NOT required to do so on Saturday.

Q. (13:19-21): Back then, religion, at times, had control of the government.  There is irrefutable evidence that the U.S. forefathers’ heavily put their religion into laws and forming this country.  That has pretty much been completely replaced by a politically-correct, religious-free attitude or equality for all religions.  I wonder if it would ever change back.  Do you know of any research to compare the well-being of society during times when Christianity has controlled a society?

A. First, the separation of Church and State (i.e. religion and government) is a modern, Enlightenment concept that would have baffled people from prior centuries, but it is standard practice now.  I will leave it up to you to decide if we are better off with these two “camps” divided (I personally think the barrier is silly and artificial, but anyway…).  As to your question, I rather doubt there would be any way to empirically test it, simply because there have been so many stripes of Christianity throughout the centuries.  I would point out, however, that I do not think that it is in the best interest of our society to keep pushing for less and less religious influence.  The natural state of man is slavery (i.e. control by someone or something else), but it is only in the Gospel that man can find true freedom.  That is why the Judeo-Christian foundations of Western Society were so crucial to the establishment of the freedoms we enjo — we moved away from our natural state by God’s grace, and the flourishing of the entire Western world was the result.  But what happens when we remove the foundation?  The building collapses, and we return to our natural state: control of the many by the few in power (i.e. slavery).  I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like the direction we’re headed.

Q. (13:25): I am surprised that Nehemiah beat and pulled the hair of offenders.  I wonder what kept them people from fighting back?  Maybe he had other palace officials with him.  Why would people want to submit to someone who is so oppressing?

A. Nehemiah was in charge: that’s why.  If they turned on him, they would be out.

Q. (Malachi 1:2-5): This does not sound like a loving God.  Why would He make an entire nation a forever enemy?  I hope you can explain this because I am bummed about it and confused.

A. I agree it sounds harsh, but like all nations, Edom can take solace in the light of the Gospel: all nations are redeemed by God’s work in Christ, even the enemies of God’s chosen people (whether in ancient times or today).  Praise God for His great mercy!

O. (1:8-9): I love this!  I have been thinking about giving my best lately.  My Kindergartner came home from school all excited about finding things for a charity drive to give to Haiti orphans.  She was looking for toys that she didn’t want.  I explained to her that that was fine.  If they are in good shape and she doesn’t want them, then giving them away is a great idea.  But, I also told her that God expects us to give our best.  I asked her about some pop beads that she enjoys playing with from time to time.  I told her that I could just imagine a group of girls sitting in a circle playing with them.  I think she got the picture.  She put them in her school bag to donate.  Giving to the orphans is giving to God.

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Day 264 (Sept. 21): Israelites settle in Jerusalem, lists of returning priests and Levites, the returning exiles

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 11-12:26

1 Chronicles 9:1-34

Questions & Observations

Q. Rob, I don’t see anything to comment on.  How about you?

A. Nothing that we have not already covered elsewhere.  Moving on…

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 259 (Sept. 16): Enemies of Judah notify King Artaxerxes of Jerusalem’s wall being rebuilt, Artaxerxes orders the building to stop, Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, Artaxerxes supports Ezra, Ezra praises God, list of exiles who go to Jerusalem with Ezra, Ezra inventories Israelites and requests Levites, Israelites fast for God’s favor for protection in their journeys, Israelites arrive and sacrifice burnt offerings

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.

Ezra 4:7-23

Ezra 7-8:36

Questions & Observations

Q. (Ezra 4:7): Xerxes and Artaxerxes are two different kings, right?  But, they both ruled over Persia.  Was there anyone ruling over Jerusalem, like in Jerusalem, not from someone having power over them from afar?

A. They are different kings: Artaxerxes is the son of Xerxes (Artaxerxes’ name means “rule from Xerxes”).  There would have been a ruler (what we might call a governor) of the region of Samaria, who controlled the entire region on behalf of the king.  He will come into play in a larger role when we move to Nehemiah.

Q. (7:6): Who is the king that gave Ezra everything he asked for.  Artaxerxes, right?

A. Yes.  Xerxes is dead at this point.

Q. (7:11-26): I’m trying to figure out what is going on here.  Is Artaxerxes is two-faced?  In Ezra 4:18-22, Artaxerxes orders Jerusalem to stop the building of their wall.  But, in 7:11-26, he is telling Ezra to take anything he needs for the temple and worshipping God.  Another point I would like to talk about is that Artaxerxes respects God’s authority, yet he does not choose to worship God.  Why don’t these other nations who recognize God’s power choose Him as their god?

A. The real threat here, as best I understand the story, is the walls.  That appears to be the focus of the king and Israel’s enemies: if Jerusalem has a rebuilt wall, it will become powerful again, which could be dangerous.  So when Ezra is given his marching orders to bring people back, note that no provision is made for rebuilding the walls, but instead to make worship at the temple.  It will not be until Nehemiah joins the party that we see the king truly change his mind and order it to be rebuilt.  It appears Artaxerxes’ real concern is offending the Jews’ God.  As to why he (and other foreign kings) do not worship God while showing Him respect (of sorts), it most likely has to do with their understanding of gods controlling particular cities or regions.  The idea of one God ruling everything does not appear to be on their radar.  So while they pay lip service to God’s power, they still don’t really think of Him as THEIR God.

Q. (8:15): Any idea why there weren’t any Levites?

A. No idea I’m afraid.

Q. (8:18-19): Why was it so important to keep Temple tasks in line with family origins?  For example, why couldn’t a non-Levite become a priest?  There are other examples, like the tribe that protected the Temple at the gates.  And, why is it important to say someone’s name with who their descendant was?  Was it a reference of character, just to note “for the record,” or what?

A. Since God was the one who ordained that only Levites could serve in the temple (and only a subset of them could be priests), He’s the one you can “blame” for the lack of non-Levite priests.  Don’t forget, that’s what got the people of the Northern Kingdom in a lot of trouble: they were using unauthorized priests because the true Levites wouldn’t participate and went to Judah.  As to the family lines: heritage was EVERYTHING to these people: your only value in such a society at this time was because of who your family was, whether good or bad.  A family name was paramount, as it still is in places in the world today.

Q. (8:21-23): This scripture is great for me.  I was just pondering and doubting my resolve with this very issue.  Here, Ezra and crew were worried about traveling a long way without soldiers and horses for fear of being attacked.  It’s great to see how “human” this scripture is.  I think of so many Bible heroes, Ezra appears that he is one this far, and how humble they are before the Lord.  They have fears and doubts like we do today, but they have courage and stick to God.  At BCL — a weekly live performance at our church (where kids and parents learn about God together) — they were talking about courage.  Courage to let God take over the life that I have known for 40-plus years and letting go of it is hard.  Our interests, traits, the way we do things, etc. are learned or develop over time out of habit.  And mine were not all born from God.  I, and my “family” (meaning family, friends, co-workers, really my whole world down to the teachers I had and the tv shows I watch) created my life.  Luckily, God was in it too.  But, my point is, I created who I am, without referring to God’s word or asking Him.  So, I need to repent myself and erase those things from my blackboard that are not Godly.  I’m going to bring in some shame here.  I snack while I’m doing these blogs many times as a nervous habit, to stay awake, just something to do.  In the last 3 years I have gained 10 pounds which really bugs me.  But, munching while blogging hardly seems a sin, but it is.  I need to ask God for help with that.  I also have a problem with thinking people are against me, unfriendly or spiteful without giving them a chance.  That is at my core for some reason.  Must come from my childhood.  But, I am combatting that bad personality trait fairly fast.  Rather, God is helping me combat that.  I also have doubts, like Ezra, that God will take care of me.  Yesterday, we had a full day at a theme park.  So, I thought we should go to the later church service today to let my daughter get enough rest.  But, she is shy and her friends are at the first service.  I just blurted out in my head, “I’m not going to worry about it, God’s got it.”  To my surprise, another one of her friends showed up with her twin little sisters so both my girls had friends they knew in church today.  What a surprise.  And then, there was a bonus.  We talked to them later and figured out some other families we can invite into our small group.  My point is, there is darkness and doubt in our everyday lives — be that it may seem small — that can overtake our day.  If we just let God handle it, it really feels like a big weight off of your shoulders and you get lifted up!  So these ill feelings that these bad habits cause is a huge hint that they are not godly.  And, I should repent and turn them over to God.  They seem so innocent that it shouldn’t matter, but they really do interfere with my happiness.

A. The Bible is quite frank about the shortcomings of many of its characters, and I think that provides a good model for us.  When we see how human many of these people really are (they act in cowardly manners, they fail repeatedly, etc.), we can see the ways that God works with them and through them — sometimes using their very faults in the process — to redeem their lives and the lives of others.  The Bible is quite clear on who is ultimately good, and it is not us.  We will see lots of examples of this in the NT.

Q. (8:33): I don’t ever remember the weight of the offerings as being important.

A. They were making sure that nothing was stolen on the long journey to the Holy Land.

O. (8:35): How wonderful it must have been for the Israelites to be together again and starting anew by worshipping God.

Day 252 (Sept. 9): Exiles who returned to Israel with Zerubbabel, altar is rebuilt, people begin to rebuild temple but face opposition, Zerubbabel’s descendants

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.

Ezra 2-4:5

1 Chronicles 3:19-24

Questions & Observations

O. If you are curious about who Ezra is, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra

Q. (Ezra 2:1-70): How did all of these exiles know to return?

A. As the first chapter of Ezra noted, the decree from Cyrus went out among his entire empire, so the Jews likely received notice either by messenger or by public posting of the decree.  It appears that the Jews in the story were quite prepared for this event, as they appear to have kept land records and family genealogies that helped them settle claims and redistribute the recovered land.

Q. (3:12): The ones who had seen the old Temple wept when they saw the new Temple because they were reminded of it’s grandeur and felt ashamed for not upholding the law to honor God?

A. Yes, and for all of the anguish the people had been through.  No doubt they were grateful for God’s provision and restoration, but they could not hold back the tears in crying aloud for their former glory.

Q. (4:4-5): Why did the local residents discourage the Judeans from building the Temple?

A. The area that had been the Jewish Promised Land was now controlled by a number of outside forces that centered in the region of Samaria (part of the Northern Kingdom that was destroyed by the Assyrians).  Having a Jewish state with any sort of clout (which the Temple would certainly provide) would be a threat to their rule, so they were opposed to this move.  We will see more about this in Nehemiah, which these same forces would oppose his efforts to rebuild the wall around the city.

Q. (1 Chronicles 3:19b-24): Is there anything in these family lines we need to make note of?

A. Other than them being lines of David’s distant descendants (via Jehoiachin), not really.

Day 123 (May 3): Levites cast lots to find out temple duties

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 23-25

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 Chronicles 23:25): What does it mean when David said that The Lord will always live in Jerusalem?

A. When the temple that David has been planning for is built by his son Solomon, it will become the final location for the Ark and therefore God’s presence.

Q. (1 Chronicles 24:6): What does “casting lots” mean?

A. It’s the same thing we’ve been looking at before: the use of the Urim and Thummim to determine God’s will.  They were “cast” or thrown as a kind of “yes” or “no” answer.

Q. (1 Chronicles 23-25): Today’s reading is primarily for record-keeping?  One thought that comes to mind is why is there so much work in the temple?  Of course, I am judging this in today’s standards where you go to church with 30-10,000 people depending on the size of the building.  But, when you have hundreds of thousands of worshippers, the duties would be multiplied.  And, this is no basic church, it is where the Ark rests.

A. Yes, it is pointing out two important aspects of ministry for the various priests: care for the temple and ministries of worship on behalf of the king and royal family.  Those tasks would have required plenty of labor, so it is not really a surprise to me that there were a lot of priestly families involved.

Day 88 (March 29): Joshua’s land, cities of refuge, Levites territory

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.

Joshua 19:49-21:45

1 Chronicles 6:54-81

Questions & Observations

O. (Joshua 19:50): I am just paying attention to notable tidbits about the tribes and who comes from which one.  I did look up which tribe Joshua came from — it had slipped my mind.  It is the tribe of (drumroll, please) Ephraim, one of Joseph’s sons.  I just thought that it was predictable, yet interesting and noteworthy, that he chose his own tribe to live among.

Q. (20:1-9): There sure is a significant amount of scripture given to the cities of refuge.  Why were they so important?  It sounds like a simple, logical idea, yet so much text is devoted to their conception.  Are there any particular cities of refuge that we should make note of?

A. According to my notes, the cities were important because they prevented blood feuds between families, which would be the result of potentially endless life for life retribution.  I can’t give you a really good explanation as to why they get so many verses, but it appears that the cities provided an important cog in the Israelite system of justice.

As to the cities themselves, in this area, the city of Kedesh, was not an important place at this point (it was consecrated in this reading), but the other two sites are important to note: the city of Shechem was the site where Israel renewed its covenant with God in Joshua 8.  Joseph’s bones will be buried there in our next reading.  Hebron — in addition to being the land given to Caleb — was among the most important places in all of Canaan, as it was the place where Sarah died way back in Genesis 23, and would subsequently be the resting place of many of the patriarchs and their wives: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah (Genesis 49:29-50:14).

On both sides of the Jordan (remember there are 6 cities total), there is a city in the north, south, and middle of the Israelite territory, in order to ensure that no one has to go too far in order to be protected.

Q. (21:2): There seems to be a lot going on at Shiloh.  Is it the city where the leaders settle?

A. Yes.  As mentioned, the Tabernacle is setup in Shiloh, and it will serve as an unofficial capital until David moves the capital to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel.

Q. (21:6): I don’t ever think we talked about why Manasseh split.  Did they act as one tribe after the split or two?

A. Joseph’s son Manasseh got the single largest share of the Promised Land, and if we consider the Transjordan area as part of their territory as well, then their allotment is truly huge.  Because of the major geographical barrier between East and West (the Jordan river), as far as I can tell, the tribes acted more like two than one.  The Bible does not tell us why the tribe split in half, but it appears that some of the families of Manasseh wanted to stay in the Transjordan area, while others wanted to enter the true Promised Land.

Q. (21:43-45): In today’s society, we have expectations of immediate gratification.  We want something, we charge it and hopefully pay later.  In these times, God makes a promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and on to Joseph and Moses among all the other faithful Israelites.  However, they did not get to see the Promised Land.  It seems almost unjust that these men of God did not get to enjoy the fruits of their toil.  Were expectations different back then? Something promised to your descendants would mean so much to you that you would go to great lengths to make it happen, and never enjoy it yourself?  Or, does the Bible say anything about they are there enjoying it in spirit?

A. As the story in Genesis told us, the land was not directly promised to Abraham, but rather to Abraham’s descendants, and renewed with Isaac and Jacob.  So, I think that God was perfectly up front with these men about what He was promising.  It did appear to be enough for each of these men that their families — more than 400 years later — would receive the blessing that had been promised to them.

This part of the OT does not talk much about the afterlife — though it never says there isn’t one — but rather a person’s success or failure comes with having descendants who will carry on your heritage, and hopefully succeed more than you did (something we frankly all want for our kids.  We just don’t always define “success” they way they do).  So not only is God promising Abraham and his sons that they will still HAVE descendants in more than 400 years (by no means guaranteed), but that his family will be huge, prosperous, and able to take an entire area of land with God’s help.  That sounds like an amazing promise, and I think it surely would have been enough for them to hear the ways that God would be faithful.