Day 122 (May 2): David’s census angers God, Plague is served as punishment, David builds altar the right way, David makes preparations for temple

We are now 1/3 of the way through the Bible.  Congrats!  And, look how much we have learned.  There is a lot more to come!  If you are new to BibleBum, welcome!  BibleBum’s mission is to explore 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.

2 Samuel 24

1 Chronicles 21:1-6

2 Samuel 24:10-17

1 Chronicles 21:7-17

2 Samuel 24:18-25

1 Chronicles 21:18-22:1

1 Chronicles 22:2-19

Questions & Observations

Q. (2 Samuel 24:1,9: 1 Chronicles 21:1, 5): The 2 Samuel version says that David ordered the census.  1 Chronicles says it was Satan.  There is also a difference in the census numbers between the two books.  Why would God’s anger against Israel make David want to take a census?  And, why was God angry anyway?

A. It is interesting to me the way that this version of the reading so clearly identifies variations in the text.  You could say that both Satan and David were involved in the sin because Satan could have easily tempted David to do it, but David is ultimately responsible.  This is also, to me, just one more way the author of Chronicles portrays David in a more positive light: rather than the census being just “his” idea, Chronicles tells us that the devil put the idea in his head.  I do not know why the numbers are different in the two versions of the census.

Regarding God’s anger, we also don’t know what it is about Israel’s actions that prompted God’s wrath.  But what appears to have made God angry about the census itself is a bit easier to understand.  The census was a military one: David is measuring the size of his army.  This is a customary action of a king who is preparing to go to war.  So that’s one possibility about what angered God: that David was planning to march his armies in (presumed) defiance of God’s command to be at peace.  The other possibility is that this is a vanity/pride move for David.  The king wants to know how many troops he has so that he can either brag about it.  A third possibility is that the census revealed that David was trusting a bit too much in his armies, and not in God.  That’s about all we’ve got here.

Q. (2 Samuel 24:10-17, 1 Chronicles 21:1-17): I like the 1 Chronicles version better.  It is more descriptive.  Three years is a long time.  I think I would have chosen Door #3 also, but if I would have realized that it would cost 70,000 lives, I may have chosen another option.  David probably didn’t realize the plague would cause so much death?

A. A famine could have killed many more: three years of poor crop growth can cripple a nation TODAY!  And who knows what they would have lost (perhaps Jerusalem itself) if he chose losing to his enemies.  I suspect David took what he knew to be the more immediately painful path, and just “have it done with.”

Q. (2 Samuel 24:24): It’s interesting that David respected God when building an altar to Him to stop the plague.  Usually, free is good.  Araunah obviously wanted to give it as a gift.

A. He did, but as we studied in the Law, God desired not what we get for free or cheap, but rather for us to sacrifice the best of what we have for Him.  This is a big part of the reason that lame or otherwise affected animals were not acceptable as sacrifices: it was the cheap and easy way out, and missed the point of what God desired.

Q. (1 Chronicles 22:14-16): I’m just trying to picture how they moved so much building materials around then, especially the cedar.  Also, it would be interesting to know how someone back then became skilled at something, like the goldsmiths, silversmiths, carpenters and stonemasons.

A. There are a variety of answers to movement of massive material in the ancient world.  We know that the Egyptians used flat sleds or logs — with lots of slave labor! — to move things like massive stones around (for building the base of the pyramids).  Materials could also be transported by caravan using burden animals like horses and donkeys, which could probably drag a considerable amount of weight behind it.

But there’s other ways too: the nations that supplied the cedar were north of Israel, so it is possible they could have used the waterways like the Jordan river or even the Mediterranean Sea to move massive trees around — wood like cedar almost always floats.  The Phoenicians and Greeks were building massive ships in this era (maybe a little later) called Triremes that were massive and could have clearly carried a lot of people or other things as well (read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trireme).  I think that gives you and idea of how it was done.  It was most likely a combination of many factors.

Like almost all professions in the ancient world, craftsmanship was handed down from generation to generation in family lines.  If your family fished for a living — as several of the apostles — you learned to fish.  If your family worked with bronze or, later, steel, or jewels or other crafting materials, you would have most likely learned from them.  In this era, there was no currency, so survival would have depended upon people’s ability to barter goods and services to meet their needs.  You can think of this as “pressure” to be good at your family craft: If someone else in your village was better at making jewelry than you were, you were in trouble.  But the family who was the best at it would have likely passed important trade skills down to the next generation.  Additionally, there were no formal schools in this part of the world at this time — though they would be what we would call “Bible” education in Jesus’ era, we’ll talk about that in due time — so you very likely could not count on anyone but your community to provide you with a “trade.”

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.