What we are reading this week (beginning Friday, August 5, 2022):
• Numbers 10-16
• Ezekiel 4-10
• Romans 10-16
• Psalms 127-133
Notes on Numbers
Numbers bounces back and forth between the historical narrative and laying down laws and regulations.
At the beginning of chapter ten, Moses is instructed to make two trumpets. Unlike the shofar—a cattle horn—these were to be made out of metal, hammered silver… like mine!
With the construction of the tabernacle and all of the objects of worship completed, the Israelites set out for the very first time on their journey toward the Promised Land (10.13). The ark (and the cloud) went before them (10.33-34). Moses led the way, and it must have been a glorious sight!
This journey should have only lasted about eleven days (see Deuteronomy 1:2). But there would be a slight delay!
In chapter eleven, they were still on course for a rather short journey when they began complaining about food (the manna), with wistful memories of all the Egyptian delicacies (while somehow forgetting that they had been slaves!).
“If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” (11.18). Anyone who has ever led any group of people recognizes the frustration that Moses endured here.
Then it gets worse. Moses’ own siblings begin to criticize him in chapter twelve. God gave those two quite the scare for this insolence (see 12.10-15).
The Big Mistake by Moses occurs in chapter 13. Even though in verse one we read that the Lord told them to send the spies, we learn in Deuteronomy 1.22-23 that this was only his giving in to a very stupid idea that originated with the people, along with Moses’ foolish agreement of the plan.
Even after a very public display of God’s own disapproval of the spies’ report, the people as a group rebelled against Moses (14.2), and God was ready to kill them all (14.11-12).
Instead of mass destruction, however, the Lord settled on adding forty years onto their eleven-day pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
Chapter 15 immediately jumps back into Law Mode, including one incident in verses 32-36 which was noted (in spite of its harsh outcome) to clarify Sabbath laws.
In chapter 16, another coalition rises up to challenge Moses as the leader. It does not end well for them or their families. It never does. But they never seem to learn.
Notes on Ezekiel
Ezekiel had to do a lot of human drama. Sometimes, we like to do five-to-ten-minute skits or human videos. Ezekiel had his tongue tied for days (3.25), had to lie on his side with a diet of only eight ounces of food a day for 430 days (4.4-13), and so forth. We also see him create a toy city and play war in it. In chapter five, he is told to cut all his hair off, divide it in thirds, and then burn a third of it up, chop up another third, and throw the rest to the wind. What a life!
The prophecy of chapter six is directed to the mountains. As we have seen, high places were always associated with idol worship. Somehow people felt closer to heaven on the hills, so they would set up their altars to false gods on them. The one place for sacrifices for the Israelites was in the Temple in Jerusalem. This prophecy was that all of the idol apparatus would be destroyed.
Chapter seven: “The end has come!” This was a particularly devastating prophecy. But God had been unable to get through the hardness of their hearts in any other way. End result of this harsh ordeal: “Then they will know that I am the Lord” (7.27).
The Spirit lifts the prophet up in chapter eight and transports him to a number of places to see the wickedness occurring by the people of God. Other than Daniel and Habakkuk, I don’t know of any of the other prophets that had such intense and astonishing visions, at least on an ongoing basis (Isaiah had just one).
The preparation for the judgment is readied and begins in chapter eight. It is particularly gruesome and terrible.
After seeing the tabernacle worship established with the accompanying presence of God in the Book of Numbers at the beginning of the formation of the nation of Israel, chapter ten is a horrible scene as the glory of God actually lifts and departs the Temple, Jerusalem, Israel, and the Chosen People.
Notes on Romans
I always remember a poster in our youth room at my church growing up with the Phillips paraphrase of Romans 12.2: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” Paul tends to open his letters with a lot of theology, and then tacking on practical application toward the end. Romans 12.9-21 gives us a boatload of practical kingdom living. Many believers have bailed on 13.1. God gives us our political leaders and authorities, and sometimes it is out of his grace for us, and sometimes it is simply what we deserve. Some people make a big deal about how our “Christian” holidays all have a pagan basis, and should therefore be avoided. But Paul says, “It really doesn’t matter. If you want to celebrate, celebrate. If you don’t, don’t make a big deal about others that do” (14.5, 13). Remember how the Israelites added on the New Moon festival (and by the sound of it, there was most likely a pagan basis for it). God not only tolerated it, but gave instructions regarding it (see e.g., Numbers 10.10). Don’t destroy the church in process of making a big deal about issues that are unrelated to doctrine (14.20). Paul really, really got into ministry to the Gentiles. He found a trove of OT verses to support his case (15.8-12). Women in ministry? Phoebe is a deaconess (16.1) and Junia (16), an ELDER, is most likely female as well!
In 15.31, as Paul is wrapping up his end-of-letter greetings and instructions, he says something interesting: “Pray …that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there.” Why would there be a concern here about receiving a financial gift? Paul’s outreach to the Gentiles may have created hard feelings to this point. “No kind deed goes unpunished.”
Notes on Psalms
We will find five more songs of ascent this week. The first, Psalm 127, is the only psalm ascribed to Solomon. Psalms 127 and 128 are particular favorites of those of us with large families.
Psalm 130 is a wonderful psalm for dealing with waiting.
In 132, the psalmist recognized the importance of daily time with the Lord. We all should adopt a similar attitude: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” Psalm 133 is the unity psalm. I come back to this one again and again. God sends his blessing down on unity. He sends it there. You don’t have to ask or look for it. It’s like wanting to get wet and knowing where it’s going to rain and then just driving there because you know that is where it will fall (133.3).