What we are reading this week (beginning Thursday, July 22, 2021):
• Leviticus 23-27 ~ Numbers 1-2
• Jeremiah 47-52 ~ Lamentations 1
• Acts 24-28 ~ Romans 1-2
• Psalms 113-119
We are jumping into three new books this week. The New Testament ones in particular will pass faster and faster. Hold on and enjoy them while you can!
We come to Psalm 119 next Wednesday. I like to take two or three days to read its 176 verses. The psalms immediately following are very short, so it’s easy to make up time.
Notes on Leviticus
Chapter 25: The concept of the Sabbath was embedded into creation itself. Not only are we supposed to observe a Sabbath every week, and a Sabbath year every seventh year… there was also a year of Jubilee to celebrate after seven cycles of the seventh Sabbath year. We tell ourselves that we would be too busy today for all of this, but all of this was intended to bless us with seasons of rest. We don’t see any evidence that Israel ever observed any of these, other than the weekly Sabbath.
Land and slaves were only leased out until the next Year of Jubilee. Even so, a person could be redeemed them by a blood relative at any time. Furthermore, looking at verse 49, slaves could redeem themselves “if they prosper.” That means slaves were to be given the opportunity to increase wealth. As we saw last week, the Old Testament concept of a slave was far tamer than the examples we have read about in our own country (and other places around the world) over the past few centuries.
“Uncircumcised hearts” (26.41). This is an interesting metaphor, directly rebuking those who were physically marked on their bodies as the Chosen People of God. Again and again we find in the Old Testament that God has never been pleased with cold ritual. Every law, every command, every directive was meant to be done out of love for God, and carried out from the heart.
In 27.3-4, the value of a male of working age was set at fifty shekels, but a female only at 30. Does this mean that God values males 67% more than females? No, it simply shows us that a male would be able to earn more, that’s all. This is strictly about economics, and nothing about one’s spiritual personal value to the Lord.
Our culture has fully embraced the wrong of thinking about value, that our ability to attain wealth is the primary metric on determining our personal value. Money is only about economics. The value of a life is measured on a far superior scale that has nothing to do with lucre.
God pleads with his people to obey him in chapter 26. He gives them thirteen verses of blessings for faithfulness to himself; then 33 verses of harsh consequences if they were unfaithful. We all know what happened. Why is the human heart so hard? Why are we so stubborn? Borrowing on your tithe comes with a 20% fee! See 27.31.
Notes on Numbers
The Book of Numbers draws its title from two censuses (censi?), one before they were exiled for forty years in the wilderness; and then one afterward, following the death of everyone twenty years old and older from the time they went in. The first census is given in 1.2. The twelve leaders appointed in 1.5-15 are very busy in this book, called to do a number of tasks as they represented their respective tribes. The camp was set up with the tabernacle in the middle, and the tribes surrounding it, three in each direction, with specific positions for each relative to the tabernacle. The trip from Egypt to the Promised Land was only an eleven-day trek (see Deuteronomy 1.2). So the portable tabernacle and its furnishings initially only should have been needed to survive a two-week journey. However—and fortunately—they were durable enough to survive the entire 40-year pilgrimage through the desert, with many, many stops.
Notes on Jeremiah
You don’t want to fall behind in Jeremiah at this point. From chapters 46 through 51, the chapters get longer and longer and longer and longer!
As we anticipated last week, rebukes to many nations are unloaded here as Jeremiah closes up his narrative.
The rebuke in chapter 47 is to the Philistines, Israel’s neighbor and perennial enemy to the west. We have heard very little about them since the days of David. Their message is somewhat short, especially compared to the others.
Next up for judgment, in chapter 48, are the Moabites, descendants of Lot’s elder daughter, and also perennial enemies of Israel. The following chapter is God’s assignment against Ammon, the descendants of Lot’s younger daughter, and also on the list of ongoing enemies of the Chosen People.
Even though Babylon is God’s sovereign choice to bring down the curtain on the Kingdom of Judah (Habakkuk 1.5-6), they will fall hard under God’s judgment. The long chapters 50-51 give all of the gory details.
The final chapter, 52, is simply an historical account of the last days of Judah.
Notes on Lamentations
The awful descriptions of the destruction of Jerusalem depicted in Lamentations can be contrasted with the hard-heartedness and hard-headedness of the people of Judah that we read about in Jeremiah. They scoffed at him, accusing the prophet of being a downer with too much negativity. They had chosen to believe the false prophets. For any of those who remained, I wonder what they had to say now?
As promised by Jeremiah, the Babylonians came into the land, captured the Israelites, and deported them to Babylon. This is the referred to as the Babylonian Exile, which lasted 70 years. Some have suggested that this number of years was to compensate for all of the Sabbath Years (Leviticus 25.1–7) that had been ignored.
Jeremiah wrote these laments because of the exile. They are stylized poetry, written as an acrostic. Chapters one, two and four have 22 verses, and there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse begins with the succeeding letter of the alphabet. Chapter three has 66 verses, with three lines each for each letter. Chapter five is not an acrostic, but still has 22 verses.
It is quite dreary reading for a while. However, the pinnacle of Jeremiah’s thoughts, finding hope that God is still in control and has not forgotten his people, occurs in chapter three.
Notes on Acts
The remainder of the book will be Paul’s ordeal in going through the Roman justice system on the way to his martyrdom (though the book of Acts ends before he dies).
I have come to wonder why there is so much detail about the legal proceedings against Paul in this book. But there a few things to consider. For one, it gives us an amazing glimpse inside of the Roman judicial system. To Rome’s credit, there is a strong desire on hearing people out on both sides of a conflict and trying to determine truth.
Also, we see Paul doing a great job defending himself. And he also throws a monkey wrench into so much I heard as a child growing up in a Mennonite church (that was at one time called the Defenseless Mennonite). We were taught basically to refrain from defending ourselves. Turning the other cheek was our basic tenet of faith.
We also see how Paul was almost insanely passionate to share the gospel anywhere, anytime, with anyone. He shared it with crowds and with individuals. No matter how far up the food chain he went in the Roman legal system, he opened up about his faith with each esteemed ruler.
And he knew that this would eventually cost him his life. But he kept right at it. He went to the grave “in full vigor” (Job 5.26). May I share that kind of intense passion in my own life!
The story of the shipwreck in chapter 27 is really cool. And of course, with seasoned sailors overwhelmed with fatigue and fear, Paul takes the lead, and takes control of the situation. A true leader.
The narrative of Acts closes in chapter 28 with a great story on Malta, and then Paul’s initial reception at Rome by the believers there. The Romans treat him better than the Jews, just like we saw last week as Jeremiah was treated better by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians than by his own people.
Acts is the only history book in the Bible where the people of God do well and the story ends on a positive note of faithfulness on behalf of the believers.
Notes on Romans
Paul cites Jesus’ authenticity by virtue of fulfilled prophecy, human ancestry, appointment by the Spirit, and the resurrection (1.2-4)
There is a great deal in here about the legitimacy of the gospel going out to the Gentiles (which included the Romans, the recipients of this book). As we have seen, this was a startling revelation to the young New Testament church. Paul emphasizes this continually throughout the book (see 1.13).
Many of you know that I consider that the verse from Habakkuk that Paul quotes in 1.17 is the central theme of the entire Bible: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Romans 1.26-32 describes our world today in great detail. Many years ago, we in the church thought that the world had become increasingly aligned with these sins. That trend has continued, and the verses have only become more relevant as time has gone on.
The law of sowing and reaping has probably no clearer illustration in our lives than in the area of judging (2.1). Those that judge often end up doing the same thing.
We often see this spiritual reality played out very clearly in the home: “I will NEVER do what my dad used to do…” And then when we become parents ourselves, we go and do the exact same thing, even more so.
Notes on Psalms
Psalm 117 is short enough (the shortest chapter in the Bible) and significant enough to merit memorization. Psalm 119 seems on one hand to be a lot of repetition of basically the same thing, until you slow down and pay close attention. Some great words to meditate on here: 11: I have hidden you word in my heart that I might not sin against you (We all memorized that as a kid in my church). 36-37: Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. 60: I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. 74a: May those who fear you rejoice when they see me. (I really like this one!) 105: Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. 112: My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end. 161: Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. (We need to be afraid of the right things!)