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.

Day 257 (Sept. 14): Temple is finished and dedicated to God, Exiles celebrate Passover, King Xerxes big banquet, Queen Vashti prohibited from ever seeing Xerxes again, Xerxes is charmed by Esther and makes her queen, Mordecai tells Xerxes of plot to kill him, Haman’s plot to kill the Jews was debunked

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 6:14-22

Ezra 4:6

Esther 1-4

Questions & Observations

I have heard this story quite a lot, but never in the detail that the Bible is providing.  It’s such a thorough account that I don’t have any deep questions, just technical ones.

 

Q. (Esther 1:1): Xerxes has such a huge territory from India to Ethiopia.  I can’t imagine how they would rule that many people over a long distance.  They must have had quite an organized structure of assistants.

A. These kings set up puppet regimes throughout the empire.  We will see this again in the NT, when the leaders such as Herod ruled Israel, but served the Emperor of Rome.  This is also why the decrees were so important: they were used to proclaim the king’s orders throughout the vast empire.

Q. (1:3-4): How did Xerxes get so much authority so fast?  In his third year as ruler, he threw a banquet for royalty that lasted 180 days.  And just to imagine the accommodations — they didn’t have Holiday Inn back then.  I just wonder if there were inns or if Xerxes housed them all.

A. Xerxes is king of the Persian Empire, which took over the Babylonian Empire from Nebuchadnezzar’s descendants.  So he got his great authority by inheriting it from the king before him, but he also very likely had to demonstrate his authority as some sort of under ruler, usually a general.  Inns and such places would have been commonplace in major cities of this time, as they are today.  Many times people in this area would use caravans to move large amounts of people and goods, and set up camps in the areas outside (or sometimes inside) a city.

Q. (2:12): Twleve months of beauty treatments?  This would never go today, not in my home anyway.  Who has time for that?  In a whole year, they would look older.

A. I honestly have no idea how to respond to this.  I’m just going to move on.

Q. (2:21): I don’t remember this part of the story.  It’s great to know more about Mordecai.  The whole eunuch thing is hard to accept.  The way the Bible refers to them as eunuchs and not just by name makes it sound like they are a separate “breed.”

A. I realize you’ve had some trouble with this concept, but it would have been accepted practice in the day.  It’s quite clear from the story that even the eunuchs in Xerxes’ empire could become powerful men, as we see in the man who controlled the entire harem for the king.

Q. (3:10): Why did Xerxes hand over the signet ring to Haman?  I don’t understand what authority is given to whomever has the ring.

A. The signet ring had a raised design on it, which was the mark of the king.  In an era, as we have discussed, of great distances between king and country and vast empires, the power of the king’s seal must be understood as incredibly important.  Xerxes, by giving Haman the ring, is basically allowing him to write decrees as though he is the king, because he can use the ring to seal royal letters and decrees.  That’s the real power of signet ring: basically being able to sign the king’s “name” onto something.

Day 248 (Sept. 5): In his vision God tells Ezekiel the rules of the temple, dividing of the land, princes must be just, special offerings and celebrations,

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.

Ezekiel 44-46:24

Questions & Observations

Q. (Ezekiel 44:1-31): It’s hard to remember that this is still a vision, because it reads to be actual interactions, which in God’s case, it probably is?  Anyway, when I read this, I just think about all these sacrificial rules and cleansing customs and think, “how long will they last?” But, God has banned the Levites that influenced the Israelites into idol worship and God only allowed the faithful Levitical priests from Zadok to minister inside the Temple.  So, God essentially cleansed the line of priests.  I still wonder how long it will last.

A. Zadok’s line (Zadok himself was the first High Priest in Solomon’s temple, 1 Kings 8) would serve for many years after this date, and rabbinic traditions of the modern era (i.e. AD) note the role his dynasty played in the priesthood for centuries.  One of the central characters of Ezra/Nehemiah — Joshua the High Priest — is of this line.

Q. (45:1-8a): So, God is instructing His temple to be built on a vacant piece of land?

A. When the nation is restored under Persian kings (coming soon!), the land God is describing will be “donated” to this cause.  It will not be “vacant,” but will be repurposed for the rebuilding of the nation, beginning with the Temple.  I would quickly add that that Temple that they will build is NOT what is being described here, for reasons that will be revealed later.

Q. (46:1-15): This ceremony is so regimented and formal, a vast difference from how I worship the Lord.  This “properness” will change in the NT?

A. You might feel very differently about how “you” worship if you were from a more liturgical tradition of the Church (say, Catholic or Anglican).  Perhaps the way to think about the change in the NT is that God gave us a freedom in the blood of Christ that we can use to glorify Him in whatever way we see fit.  Now there is not just one “proper” way to worship God, but many.  We will see the way that Paul lays out this argument in the Book of Galatians.

Q. (46:11-12): So far in their diets, I have can recall just hearing about meat, flour, oil, wine and figs.  Did they eat much fruits and veggies?  How come they are not included in the offerings?

A. The priests’ families could grow those themselves on the limited land that they had, and trade for the rest.  Since fruits and vegetables were not capable of shedding blood (obviously), they were not a part of the sacrifice system, which is primarily what this passage is concerned about.  Be careful about applying our own considerations of proper nutrition onto people living nearly 3000 years ago, they had no concept of nutrition, just survival.  I’m sure vegetation was a part of their diet (wheat and grains in particular), but I don’t think it was a primary concern for them.

Q. (46:18): God is really putting an emphasis on the leaders, the “princes,” to be just to the people.  That’s nice to see!

A. God was presenting the desire to see His people put aside the mistakes of the past, and the corruption of the leadership was a big one.  That had to go!  Being a just ruler was the only way God would accept this type of leader.

Day 54 (Feb. 23): Punishments, priests and marriage, worthy offerings

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.  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 20-22

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 20:2-5): Molech was a popular idol back then?

A. Molech was the god of the Ammonites, one of Lot’s children from Genesis 19 if you recall who was also worshipped by the Canaanites in the Promised Land.  Child sacrifice was central to Molech worship (we will see one of the corrupt kings of a future era do this!), which was particularly detestable to God, who considered children to be a provision from Him, not something to be offered up as a sacrifice to the gods in order to gain power

Q. (Leviticus 20:6-21): We have heard all of these laws before, recently.  Why the repetition?  Is it for emphasis, as we have seen in other stories?  Two other questions come to mind.  In earlier stories like with Abraham and his immediate descendants, they actively sought marriage of kin.  But here, God is saying it’s bad.  Any idea why he didn’t give these decrees hundreds of years earlier?  The other question is, do we inherently know that having sexual relations with relatives is bad or is it learned?  We know it’s not proper because bad traits/genes from the same family make offspring doubly likely to carry those genes and it just makes for very weird family vibes.  But to other nations, if they were never told it wasn’t proper to marry or have sexual relations with relatives, then are they disobeying?  The way I understand the Bible thus far is that some nations did not have knowledge of the Bible.  Or, is being repulsed by having sexual relations with your kin instinctive?

A. It appears that the reason for the repetition in this case was to provide guidance to the appropriate punishments for the violations of the Law.  Please note that in many circumstances the Law is prohibiting sex, especially rape of the close relatives rather than concerns about marriage- so we need to understand that up front.  Regarding the earlier generation seeking close family to marry: oftentimes this was done rather than marrying with other tribes that God did not approve of, but I suspect part of the reason it is forbidden now is that the tribes have gotten much larger.  One other thing to note is that while they did seek close relatives to marry, none of the marriages that actually occurred in the earlier stories (to my knowledge anyway) were in the category of forbidden marriages described here.  In some cases, in fact- I’m thinking of Reuben getting in trouble for having sex with one of (his father) Jacob’s wives- we see prohibition taking place before the Law is even revealed.

Regarding whether we actively seek out relationships with close family: I think that it is our nature to covet what we see around us.  If all you ever see is (let’s say) attractive close relatives, before too long, you probably will desire one of them, and you would therefore have to decide if you wanted to act on it or not.  This is what these rules are really about: setting up a standard so that the people know which relationships are forbidden, and which are permitted.  This is one more way that the people of Israel were set apart from their neighboring tribes: by having an ethic that was designed to prevent incest.

Q. (20:26): This is the verse Rob has been talking about. “You must be holy, because I, the Lord, am holy.  I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.”  Is this the first time we have seen it?  Or did I miss it?  It explains a lot.

A. I think so.

Q. (21:7): God gives some rules to priests about marrying, but he does not say that they must NOT marry.  So why do Catholics believe that their leaders should be single?

A. Its not so much the married status as the vow of celibacy that makes that a bit complicated.  J  So if you mean why do Roman Catholic priests take the vow of celibacy, then our answer comes from 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul talks about marriage.  The whole chapter is a good examination of the subject of marriage from the perspective of ministry, but the central point is introduced in verse 32: a man who is married cannot simply focus in on his ministry to God, but must focus a good portion of his time on his wife (rightly so, Paul says; Paul is not looking down on marriage, just stating the facts).  So Paul says that if you want to focus all your energy on the ministry of God, then you can’t get married.  You have to make that a priority in order to be a priest: that’s the way the R/C Church assures their own clergy are solely focused on God (though of course that has its downsides as well).

The other motivator for the vow is also the priest’s imitation of Jesus Himself, who, no matter what Dan Brown or silly modern “discoveries” about Jesus and his “wife” claim, was NEVER married.

Q. (21:12): Over and over again, God has told us that touching the dead makes a person, back then, ceremonially unclean.  Why?

A. While I’m sure there is a spiritual component, ultimately I think it’s a sanitation thing, related to our previously stated discussions about public health.  Keep in mind that bodies were a frequent source of disease and (of course) the horrid smell of decay.  There were no undertaking procedures to process a body and make it presentable and smell nice: they got bodies into the ground or tombs ASAP in order to try and prevent the spread of disease.

Q. (21:13): By clan, God means one of the tribes?  So, a priest may marry one that he is related to, just very distant?  How would he dishonor descendants by not marrying someone from his own clan?  Maybe his loyalty would be split?

A. Just as the Israelites were to be a people set apart, the Levites as a subset of the Israelites were called to be a tribe set apart for their special work of God.  God wanted them to remain a people set apart for His work.

Q. (21:16): Rob, here we are again.  I know you saw this question coming!  I am reading this verse and thinking that God is being unfair by not letting those with impairments may not offer food to God. (I heard an argument lately that, life isn’t fair because I’m a sinner and God still loves me.  How is that fair?  That was from my hubby.)  But, I would think God would be fair in this regard.

A. I’m not going to try and defend how unfair this appears on its face.  I’m only going to point out that under this system (which is not the system Christians are under today remember!), the priests (like the sacrifices brought to them) had to represent the best of who the Israelites were: they were to be perfect examples for the people in their leadership.

Q. (22:18): We have seen “foreigners living among you.”  The Israelites are God’s chosen, so why would he not say something about others joining them?  And, why would they want to, traveling in the desert for years on end?  Does it have anything to do with the word out about God being with him in all of his enormity

A. I think this verse has more to do with the move into the Promised Land, in which Israel is settled as the leading tribes, but others still live in the area.  Those who did not belong to the tribes had to be treated respectfully, but they still had to follow the rules if they wanted to worship the God of Israel.

Q. (22:33): The way this reads is that God is holding his rescuing the Israelites over their head, like saying “you owe me.”  But, I am learning that you have to always read through the perceived tone.  I have to read it, understand the actions, but then go further and look at everything involved in the story and there I find God’s reason.  To me, He is saying this as a reminder to obey.  God is there to protect them, so listen to Him and you’ll be OK.  Stray from Him and you will see trouble.  Yet, I know the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years on their journey to Canaan.  They continually go away from God and then return to Him when things get worse.  So, here He is saying: Listen so I don’t have to say, “I told you so.”  Also, I notice that this translation says “that I might be your God,” like saying I did this so I would be worthy of being Your God.  Like he is serving the Israelites.  Am I reading too much into this?

A. Remember that this is basically an extended version of a covenant between God and the people.  The very first thing God says in establishing the covenant with the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 is for the people to remember what He has done (v. 1-2): they would still be slaves in Egypt if not for His intervention.  So the call to remembrance in these verses (it will come up again!) is not about God bragging or saying, “you owe me”, but rather, “this is what you agreed to.  It must be my way, or you will not survive.”  We will see Israel struggle with this way, and frequently turn away from God, so perhaps we should consider the reminder as a word of wisdom, because the people will frequently NOT remember what God has done for them.

Day 47 (Feb. 16): Levites dedicated, Second Passover, rules for burnt, grain and peace 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.

Numbers 8

Leviticus 1-3

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. (Numbers 8:5-26): Can you remind us of which of Jacob’s sons the Levites came from and any significance that has on them becoming the ones to work with the priests?  So, there were thousands of Levites that had to be purified?  I think you told us earlier that the Levites had to disperse among the other tribes.  What were there duties?

A. Actually, the term Levites tells us which son they were from: Jacob’s third son Levi.  Levi was one of the sons who got Jacob into trouble with the whole “wait until our enemies are circumcised and then kill them” bit from Genesis 34 (fun times).  Part of Jacob’s “blessing” for Levi was that his descendants would be dispersed among the other tribes, and here we see that played out.

Regarding their duties, that is, actually, what some portions of Leviticus are about, so let’s hang on to that one and see if we come to a sufficient answer.

Q. The Passover is just celebrated today by the Jewish community, right?  The new law of the New Testament makes us no longer under Passover requirements.  Is it still a good idea to practice them?

A. We should distinguish being required to celebrate Passover, as religious Jews are, and recalling/celebrating the way that God has acted in the past as Christians do to this day.  As we’ve mentioned, the sacrament of Communion was “born” at the satyr or Passover meal, so Jesus certainly desired us to know and understand both what had happened in Exodus, but also the ways that He was doing something new to forever change our status with God.

Q. (Leviticus 1:9) Do you know of any reason why God required that the legs and internal organs be singled out to be from the rest of the body to be washed before sacrificing?

A. I can’t find a particular reference to why those particular portions were required to be washed, no.

Q. (Leviticus 2:10-11,13) Why is the grain the most holy of all of the offerings?  Why no yeast?  To remind them of their deliverance from Egypt?  And, why no honey?

A. I’m not completely sure about why this was considered to be the most holy of offerings (that were burned), but part of the instruction to the priests were that grain offerings were to be eaten AT the altar, rather than taken home to their families.

Regarding yeast and honey: the yeast (as we’ve examined) was to remain out partly because of the reminder of Passover, but also because it is a cultivated product (i.e. human effort), where as the bread without yeast is purely a reminder of God’s provision and effort in Exodus.  There are a few guesses why honey was excluded, which include its use in brewing beer, but also possibly because it was part of the ritual sacrifice of the Canaanite tribes in the Promised Land.  The lack of honey in the religious ritual would have therefore set the tribe apart from its surrounding neighbors, a recurring theme in Leviticus.

Q. (2:13):  Why would salt remind the Isrealites of God’s eternal covenant?

A. There’s few references to salt in this capacity (see Numbers 18:19 for one), but the reason for this inclusion is not specifically given.  The best guess I came across is that when establishing a covenant in the ancient Middle East, there was frequently a meal served as part of the ritual, and salting the meat of sacrificed animals was a part of it.

Q. (2:15,16): I can’t believe I missed asking the significance of olive oil?  How about frankincense?

A. Olive oil would have been just about the only oil available in those days, but there does not appear to be anything special about it as far as I can tell.  The use of incense —frankincense being one example — was certainly a part of the rituals of the priesthood: incense was burned day and night, mixed in the showbread, and used here.  It would have been crucial in helping to deal with the overpowering smell of the animal sacrifices.

Q. (3:1-17): This sounds anything but peaceful!  I know I have spoken my ill feelings about sacrifices.  I know the times were very different.  It’s just that from the way we were brought up, this activity would be viewed as cult-like.  Also, what I view as violent coming from God in the OT seems opposite of the gentle love he shows in the NT.  I understand that sacrificing was for the people to give their best to the Lord.  But, why all the cutting up and talk of different organs and fat?

A. The term “peace offering” comes from the Hebrew word Shalom, and would have represented peace between God and His people, without, unfortunately, much consideration for the animals that were used.  It certainly was a different time, and honestly the consideration of animal slaughter would not have been a big deal to these people: they had to use and kill animals constantly to survive.  Don’t forget: these rituals  — which certainly can be called cult-like — were all about keeping the people in right relationship with God, i.e. to keep peace between God and men.  Animal sacrifice is, at this point, THE ONLY WAY to satisfy God’s requirements for atonement of sin.  We see it quite differently in light of Christ, but that was their reality.

One thought that might help: the ritual of animal sacrifice can be seen as a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ, which is how most church Fathers viewed it in ancient times.  So if we harness our disgust at the brutal nature of the whole matter of sacrificing animals, we can then imagine the significance and magnitude of a human being, Jesus, WILLINGLY laying down His own life for His people to forever give peace between God and people.  Yes it was, and is, brutal, but such is the cost of sin.