Day 63 (March 4): Korah challenges Moses, Moses puts Korah and followers to a test, Aaron’s staff shows he’s chosen, priests and Levites duties defined, tithing

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.  The blog started on Jan. 1, 2013, but you can start at any time.   To start from the beginning, click on “index” to find Day 1.  We hope you enjoy this time of discovery as much as we do!  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.

Numbers 16-18

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 16:1,6): I guess Korah did not learn from God’s punishment to Miriam when she and Aaron also became envious of Moses being the one God talks to and has chosen to lead the Israelites (Numbers 12:1-16).  What is the significance of burning incense before the Lord?  Is it a way that the Lord can identify those who were challenging Moses (really God) and know which ones to punish?  The idea of burning incense in front of the Tabernacle just seemed to have popped out of Moses’ mouth with out him thinking about it as a way to see whom God chooses.  Many times, as I recall, Moses confers with God before he doles out a punishment.  God is really talking through Moses.

A. This is a literal trial by fire for the 250 men who were among the group that challenged Moses and Aaron.  They were attempting to offer incense to the Lord, a duty of the priest, to test whether the Lord would except them as priest instead of Aaron’s family.  Obviously, God did not.

O. (Numbers 16:12): How easily the Israelites forget their enslavement in Egypt!  We are supposed to remember our past and learn from our ancestors’ accomplishments and mistakes.   Here their memory is so short they can’t even remember that Miriam had leprosy from questioning God’s choice of Moses.

Q. (16:22-35): Moses is always interceding for the Israelites and pleading for God to forgive them.  I like this plan that just destroys the ones at fault.  I would think it would be very effective, especially since God appeared before the whole community.  So all of these men who were swallowed and burned were Levites?

A.  Some where Levites of the house of Kohath, which chapter 4 told us was the group of Levites responsible for moving and caring for (but not touching!) the sacred objects of the altar.  But the text also says that there were members of Reuben’s clan as well, which would mean they were not Levites.  These men were not satisfied with Moses’ rule, and appear to have longed for the “paradise” of Egypt.

Q. (16:40): So, these men were not authorized to burn incense at the Tabernacle — not Levites?  Moses knew this and knew they would be destroyed?

A. Well, that was the test.  If these men desired to be the true priests, they had to carry out the priestly duties, and we can recall the careful instructions that God has given to Moses and Aaron about the priestly role.  So, basically, Moses probably knew that such a move was foolish for these men, but there was no other way for them to demonstrate that they had been chosen by God.

Q. (16:46-50): Does Moses actually have power here or is he using power God gave him to control God’s wrath?

A. As we have seen several times, and will see again soon, it appears that Moses and Aaron act on behalf of the people in order to spare them, or in this case spare MORE of them, God’s wrath.

Q. (17:8): We have seen the almond symbol before when God was instructing the Israelites on how to make the lampstand (Exodus 25:33).  What is the significance of almonds here?

A.  It is the same.  We looked at this question on Day 44 (Feb. 13th).  Here’s what I noted there: There are two significances to the almond tree.  First, the almond tree was the first tree to bloom in the Middle East after the winter, making it a symbol of new life and renewal.

The other symbolism of the almond tree is a word play.  The word for almond (shâqêd) in Hebrew is very similar to the word for “lookout”, “watchful”, or “unresting”.  So in this case, the staff itself becomes a symbol of God’s provision and His watching over His people.

It is also possible, we are not told, that Aaron’s staff could have been from an almond tree, and so the miraculous growth seen was related to the “original” trunk of the tree it came from.

O.  (17:12): I think the Israelites are missing the point.  Destroying these unbelievers was a sign to learn from.  They think that they are cursed if they go near the Tabernacle instead of realizing that the actions of those who were destroyed caused their doom.

Q. (18:8-24): I would think that the Levites getting all of the offerings and tithes would cause some jealousy.  I understand that God righted this by not allowing the Levites to own land.  Any insight?

A. God was asking a great deal of Aaron and the Levites.  It only seems fair that they are compensated for this sacrifice.  And while the text says “these offerings are yours,” they don’t mean, “so that you can get rich at My expense.”  The Levites were expected to tithe upon the tithe (as we read), but also use the funds to care for the equipment and various parts of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple.  I honestly doubt if very many people got wealthy, God is simply making a provision for His carefully selected people.

Q. (18:30-32): So the people gave the Levites their tithing.  From this, the Levites fed their families and gave the best portion to the priests, which is how the priests ate.  When, God says to offer and tithe, the priests and Levites receive it and use it?  It goes to God through the Israelite leaders?

A. This passage is saying that even though the Levites were receiving the tithe of the other tribes, they themselves were not exempted from tithing.  In fact, this passage is telling them that they must give God back, if you will, the very best of the things they received (oil, wheat, etc.).  In this way, the Levites were held to the same standard as the rest of the tribes: God expected the best, and the first fruits, even if it was indirectly.

Thanks for reading along!  See you tomorrow.

Day 33 (Feb. 2): Moses travels to Egypt, Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh, Pharaoh orders more work for Israelites, God hears their cries and promises to free them, Moses’ and Aaron’s ancestors, Aaron’s carries God’s miracles

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.

Exodus 4:18-7:13

Questions & Observations

Q. (4:21): Do we learn later why God hardens Pharaoh’s heart?  I thought it was already hard because he was severely enslaving the Israelites.

A. Pharaoh will not allow God’s people to leave, and God is telling Moses that He will do this intentionally in order for His glory to be seen.  I suspect His reasons for doing this are for Him to declare His superiority among the Egyptian gods (something 7:12 points to — despite both parties being able to “make” snakes, the God snake is more powerful), to humble the pride of Pharaoh.  I think on some level God is also out to avenge Himself on the Egyptians, who have taken His precious child (Israel), so in the end, He will take theirs (in the death of the firstborn).

The treatment of Pharaoh is one that is controversial, because you can certainly argue God forces Pharaoh to reject Moses’ demands in order to sadistically punish him.  There are also certainly issues of predestination at work here as well (i.e. did Pharaoh really have a choice in these matters?), but ultimately God gives the game away in this reading: in 6:6: He says that He wants Israel to know who He is, and in 7:3, He will harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to demonstrate His glory among the Egyptians (who do not worship Him, but worship false gods that we will confront).  Above all, part of what we have established in our name discussion from yesterday is that I AM is His own authority (something we established in Job) and He does not answer to us.

Q. (4:22): Israel means the people of Israel?

A. Yes.  The nation of Israel.  We will see God refer to Israel in a variety of ways (including as His wife), but in this case, He refers to the nation as his firstborn son.

Q. (4:24-26): This whole scene is confusing.  Why would God want to kill Moses?  Because his son wasn’t circumcised?

A. It appears so.  That is the best guess we have, and honestly this passage does not make a lot of sense to me either.  But we certainly see that God took the requirements of the Law seriously, and not circumcising a son was a pretty major offense.

O. (5:22-23): Moses confronts the Lord.  Moses had told the Lord that his speech was not worthy of being a leader.  Now, he is showing more confidence.

Q. (6:2): God never told Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who He was?

A. God, for whatever reason, choose not to reveal what we might call His true name to them, and part of the reason for it is revealed to us (by implication).  God is saying that His identity will be that of deliverance for His people (the whole point of Moses’ call story) but that there was no way the earlier fathers would have understood this desire to deliver (because no one needed rescuing in those days).  God reveals Himself to His people on what we might call a need to know basis, and that trend will continue.

Q & O. (7:10-13): Here, there is a pattern God uses of things being swallowed up by healthier, more powerful like things.  Here it’s snakes.  With Joseph it was cattle.  Also, the dried up stalks of wheat bowed down to the healthy ones.  I was surprised when Pharaoh’s magicians could duplicate God’s miracle with Aaron’s staff.  Verse 11 shows that sorcery is real?

A. The consumption implies superiority.  Regarding sorcery, the Bible will record various accounts of usage of the occult (the implication here) and usually attribute the work to demonic power.  It does not shy away from saying that there are no other spiritual powers that can be used, only that God is superior to them.

Q.  I don’t see a point to any of this story yet.  Am I missing something, or do we just need to wait?

A. Deliverance is the point of the story, so hang in there for that.

Day 32 (Feb. 1): Exodus — Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh, Pharaoh increases workload of Israelites, Israelites suffer greatly, God reaffirms covenant with His people, Moses’ and Aaron’s ancestors listed, snake wars

At first I put “Day 32 (Jan. 32).” Lol.  Congrats!  We have made it one month!  Can you believe we have learned so much in just two books?  Another 64 books and we will be the wisest ones around! I am amazed at how much I have learned, how many questions have been answered and how much more I understand about the way God is showing us to live to have a more fulfilling life.  In my BSF group, the leader asked for insight I have gained from Genesis.  I said, “the boundaries God has given us.” He tells us rules to live by to keep from falling into darkness. 

From Job, I have learned to shut up and to realize just who God is.  I question too much of God’s reasons for things.  Like Job says, who am I to ask “Why?” of the Creator of the world?  Job and his friends say over and over and over how magnificent and powerful God is.  The repetition definitely tested our patience, but they certainly succeeded in pounding in their message.  The extensive lists of what God controls, creates and cares for opened my eyes to and solidified my realization of God’s magnificence and magnitude.  And, letting go of all the questions I have, realizing I will never know all the answers, is a big weight off my back.  Just giving God your burdens is such a relief!

Thanks to Rob, our expert on board, I have also learned that although the Bible is historical, that’s not God’s purpose in giving us the information.  The purpose of the Bible is to show us how to live; to give us insight on how to deal with struggles; and how to turn to God and trust him ALWAYS!  We need to extract the wisdom from God’s Word, not pick it apart to learn all the details of a story and the reasons behind the actions.  

Let’s keep going!  Exodus is next.  For an introduction to Exodus, go to http://www.biblestudytools.com/exodus/

If you are just joining us, thank you for checking out BibleBum.com, where we are reading the Bible in one year, chronologically.  This blog is unique in that at the end there are questions from the reading answered by a seminary graduate who has studied cultural history.  The information helps readers grasp confusing parts, explore deeper meanings and often times find surprises! To start this blog from the beginning, click on the index tab and find Day 1. 

I hope you find this as fun and as enriching as we have creating it!

 

Exodus 1-2:25

1 Chronicles 6:1-3a

Exodus 3:1-22

Questions & Observations

Q. (Exodus 1:22): Here, the king’s rule spared the Hebrew girls.  Any idea why girls are treated more gently than boys?  Is this tied to being a gentleman?  I just wonder if Pharaoh was determined to subdue the Israelites, then why did he not rule to have the girls killed along with the boys?

A. The women would be unlikely to fight in any uprising against Pharaoh, and would be easy to control by comparison.  Pharaoh is, in his mind, trying to make the Israelites weak.

Q. (2:1,10): I wonder what Moses exuded that made his mother think he was special and made Pharaoh’s daughter desire to spare his life and take him as her own?  Also, did the princess have contact with Moses while his mother had him?  The only evidence I see is that the princess said she would pay Moses’ mother to care for him.  So, she may have visited him when paying her.

A. My understanding is that Moses came to be part of the house of Pharaoh when he was weaned — Pharaoh’s daughter was paying Moses’ mother to be a wet nurse, which I guess worked out pretty well for the mom.  The story doesn’t seem to tell us if the princess came to visit (I honestly don’t know), but the more important detail for the story is that Moses will be a person of two ethical heritages: he was born an Israelite, but brought up as part of an Egyptian household.  He lived in both worlds, and very likely was raised with the man who would become Pharaoh (something the movie The Prince of Egypt points to).

Q. (1 Chronicles 6:1-3a): Is there any significance from Moses coming from the line of Levi?

A. In the sense of where we’ve been, no.  But in the sense of where we’re “going” so to speak, you bet!  Moses and Aaron are two of the most important figures in Israel’s history: Moses will (of course) be the great liberator, and speak to God on behalf of his people in a way that no one (outside of Christ) has done since.  God will make Aaron the first High Priest on this journey, and Aaron’s descendants will be important members of the priesthood.  So it is in Exodus that we see Levi’s descendants first become the chosen ones to be the people’s representatives before God.  (As you will recall, because of this special religious role, the Levites will be dispersed among the other tribes and not have land of their own.)  We will see in the book of Leviticus (about the Priesthood) the way that God will provide for the priests out of the sacrifice system.

Q. (Exodus 3:1): It’s interesting that there are so many references to sheep in the Bible.  Sheep were obviously a staple back then?  Now, we have mostly cattle, swine and chicken in the U.S.  I don’t know if sheep are still as numerous in the area as they were in Bible times.  Most interesting though, is God’s use of sheep in demonstrating how Jesus, the shepherd, takes care of us, the sheep.  And here, Moses is a shepherd, which may help prepare him for taking care of the Israelites as they exit Egypt.  Any comment, Rob?

A. Sheep are still a big part of agriculture in other parts of the world (though the story will make reference to other domesticated animals as well, notably cows (and oxen) and birds — pigs were unclean, so they didn’t keep them (and still don’t).  Sheep have played an important role in the story so far, and they will continue to.  They (goats, sheep, and lambs) will play a crucial role in the sacrifice system that is established in Leviticus (other animals will be offered up to, so its not just them).  In addition, both the Old and New Testaments describe the relationship between God and humanity as a shepherd who takes great care of their flocks (for example, Psalm 23 and John 10).  Since it was such an important part of their culture, it is probably unsurprising that God would use that image.

Q. (3:6): Isn’t this the first time that we see God appear with more of a presence?  Here, God told Moses to stop where he was and take off his shoes because he was on holy ground.  Moses doesn’t go any closer and he covers his face in fear.  When God appeared to Abraham, He just showed up as a traveler, although Abraham quickly knew who He was.  Just wondering why the change?  This is the first time God has spoken to Moses. Before this, we don’t know if Moses obeyed God, right?

A. God will not appear to two people in exactly the same way throughout the Bible, for reasons known only to Him.  We don’t know much about the relationship between God and Moses to this point (though it does imply that Moses knew who was addressing him, so he had some sort of relationship with God).  Don’t forget, Moses killed a man and fled his people to live in (basically) isolation.  Just one more example of God selecting a deeply flawed person to carry out His will.  God does not call the equipped; He equips the called.

Q. (3:8): Are the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites descendants of anyone we know from Genesis?

A. No, I don’t think so.  The only one we have any connection with is Esau’s (Edom’s) relatives, and though they will be a part of the story, they live outside of Canaan, the area where these tribes live (for now).

Q. (3:14): Can you explain God calling himself “I am”?

A. Oh man.  I could write a novel in response to that question (and people have).  God is here revealing His “real” or proper name: which in Hebrew is the four letters YHWH (called the Tetragrammaton from the Latin for “four letters”).  The word “Yahweh” is derived from the YHWH (vowels do not appear in printed Hebrew) and is the third person form of the word for “I AM” (i.e. HE IS).  I AM is the way God chooses to refer to Himself, and we refer to Him (in this sense) as He IS (if that makes any sense).

Here’s a few other things we can take away from the significance of the name: the use of I AM (and I Am that I Am) both imply that God is a personal being, that He is in the present moment (you could also say He is outside of time — He is neither past or future, He just IS).  It also can tell us that God is unchanging, and that we must adapt to Him, not the other way around.

One of the best write-ups I’ve read on this matter comes from John Piper (of Desiring God ministries).  He has an entire sermon on God’s identity.  The whole thing is good, but the bottom half talks about the significance of the name in this scripture.  Check it out: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/i-am-who-i-am (and note the section Seven Implications in the Divine Name).

Q. (4:10): I have heard people mock Moses, that he’s not the most confident leader.  Again, God chooses a humble man.

A. God certainly chose a man who did not want the job, but he will be the only person who can “shepherd” (as you made reference to) his people through 40 years in the wilderness.  Despite his humble beginnings, Moses will be the single most revered person in Jewish history.