What we are reading this week (beginning Friday, August 12, 2022):
• Numbers 17-23
• Ezekiel 11-17
• 1 Corinthians 1-7
• Psalms 134-140
I’ve been on vacation and running a little behind. Hope you are all full of forgiveness and grace!
Notes on Numbers
At the end of last week’s reading in chapter 16, Korah, his followers and their families perished through their direct challenge to Moses’ authority. Even so, with the earth opening up and swallowing them all, the people later complained that Moses had “killed the Lord’s people” (16.41). In chapter 17, God decides to show them yet again his power and their ignorance. The staffs of the twelve leaders are brought forth, and Aaron’s staff—a mere stick—budded, blossomed, and produced almonds. This apparently got their attention the way God intended, for their response says is all (see 17.12-13). This event was so significant, the budding rod was placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, along with the Ten Commandments and a jar of manna (see Hebrews 9.4). An abrupt change back to regulations in chapter 18. The duties of the priests, along with their required offerings, are given. The process of tithing is introduced. The concept of the tithe is spelled out in Numbers 18. The 10% offering of the people would be used to take care of the Levites, who were full-time pastors of the other tribes. Furthermore, the tithe of the Levites themselves would be given to the priests for the same reason. Doesn’t ever say where the tithe of the priests was to go.
The red heifer required in 19.2 is a biological anomaly. To meet the exacting requirements, such a birth would be very rare. We know that the Temple must be rebuilt, and to do that a red heifer is required per these verses here before the end will come upon the earth.
Hyssop (19.18) was a plant that was used to dip into ceremonial blood and then could sprinkle the blood. It is also called ezob. David refers to his Psalm 51.7, his prayer of confession. He is inferring being sprinkled with blood, and there is a direct allusion to our forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. Another grumbling about how much better things were back in Egypt in 20.3. By my count, I think this is the third time.
While the rank-and-file moan, complain, and rebel on a daily basis, Aaron and Moses are called rebellious for just one misstep (20.24). Leaders answer to a much higher standard. This bronze snake takes a few spiritual twists and turns. It is first created here in 21.8-9 at God’s command. If the people are bitten by a snake, they can save their lives by looking at it.
But in the meantime, the snake-on-a-stick had taken on a life of its own as an idol, and was even given a name, Nehushtan. Hezekiah, the godly king, would smash this sacred cow in 2 Kings 18.4 because of this idolatry. Jesus referred to this symbol in John 3.14-15, right before the most famous verse in the Bible, as a picture of how he would be lifted up (on a cross) and that by looking at him (believing) people would be saved. At the end of the Book of Numbers, we have this intriguing meeting between a man named Balak, who wanted to harm the Jews, and his paid spiritual curser for hire, Balaam.
Balaam is a really interesting kind of guy, with a prophetic gift and an unstable spiritual condition, a very dangerous combination. In chapters 22–24, we have Balaam interacting with THE Angel of the Lord (a theophany, Jesus himself), and a talking donkey.
He was quite the character. When his donkey started talking to him (and do you not immediately see Donkey from Shrek when you read this?), Balaam doesn’t say, “Wow, a talking donkey!” But instead, he gets into an argument with the animal. Balaam brought a word from God, unable to curse the Hebrews. However, in addition to hearing God’s voice, he also employed divination (see 24.1 and Joshua 13.22). He had a strong prophetic gifting, but abused the gift and did not keep his life in line. In 2 Peter 2.15, we read that he loved the wages of wickedness; Jude 11 refers to “Balaam’s error” without defining what it is, but there is an implication that it was pretty evil, whatever it was; and finally in Revelation 2.14, we find that he eventually led the Israelites into idolatry and sexual immorality.
Notes on Ezekiel
In chapter eleven, we find God acting the way I think any loving, caring parent would act with a child totally out of control. He continues to promise strong judgement upon their vile acts and for ignoring his voice and his laws. But then he is quick to remind them that there will indeed be restoration and a return to the land. However, seventy years of exile is a long, long time. Nothing could change either of these prophetic words.
More drama ministry takes place in chapter twelve. This time, the prophet takes a backpack and digs a hole through a wall. It is a picture of the coming exile. At the end of the chapter, God assures them that this is coming at once, no more delay.
Even after the deportation had begun, people continued to hang on to the words of false prophets (13.3-5). In 14.14 and 20, we read of Noah, Daniel, and Job. This Daniel is probably not the same one we know and love from lion’s den fame. He would have been very young here, and possibly not even have been deported to Babylon at this point. Long allegories of Israel’s history and interaction with God are given in Ezekiel, including all 63 verses of chapter 16. This one is based on marriage. I believe marriage was given to us primarily as an object lesson on how God loves us and how we are to relate to him. This message is given to the southern kingdom of Judah, where she is compared to the northern kingdom, Samaria (16.46). Samaria’s sin was a sober warning to those of us who live in the West today: “arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned” (16.49). At this point in time, the Samaritans had been taken to Assyria, but time had not borne out at this point the intermarriage that would define them as the wicked, ungodly, compromising motley crew that they were believed to be in the New Testament. Another allegory is given in chapter 17, but this one involves birds and trees. The Jews continued to look to Egypt as a possible ally and protection against the Babylonian invasion, but the prophets had strongly and repeatedly warned them that this path was futile (17.15-18).
Notes on 1 Corinthians
In chapter one, after opening salutations, the Apostle Paul pleads with them for unity, then offers a discourse on the power and wisdom of God, compared with that of humanity. In chapter two Paul continues on about God’s power, then explains how God’s wisdom is revealed through the Spirit. The issue of division is addressed again in chapter three, along with a very vivid illustration of how all of our works will be subjected to fire on the Day of the Lord.
Everything we have done in this life will be tested by fire. Like gold and silver, all that we have done in integrity and purpose for the Lord will survive and be our reward. Whatever else we have done will burn up in the flames (3.12-15). Verse 15 implies that for some, everything they have done in this life will burn up. They will enter heaven, but without any reward, without anything at all for all eternity to show for their tenure on this planet. “Let your conscience be your guide” may be a popular philosophy, but Paul says that this is a very bad idea (4.4). Our consciences are too easily manipulated to be of any substantial value. When it comes to conflict within the church, why is the wisdom of 6.7b not employed more often? “Why not rather be cheated?” Paul rattles off a list of sins that will keep us out of heaven (6.9-10). Most of them have to do with sex. The Bible does not approve or endorse any sexual encounter outside of a male/female marriage. The church has gone soft on this in a lot of places. But we must bear in mind that our diluting of any command or directive does not somehow force God to subscribe to our new ideas. We all sin, and we all probably do every day. This alone does not remove us out of the kingdom of God, as long as we continue to love God and ask for forgiveness. For each of the sins listed here, there can be forgiveness as well. However, to be indulging in them intentionally and on an ongoing basis, Paul implies that your heart must be so far from God that you could not be considered to be living in the kingdom. We are not told to stand and fight when sexual immorality is knocking on the door. We are told to run for our lives! (6.18-20).
Slavery was common in New Testament times. The word of God gives a number of allusions to this reality (7.21, 9.19, 27). Early church writings tell us that in some of the churches, some slaves served in leadership.
Notes on Psalms
The first three psalms this week are anonymous. Psalm 136 ends each line with “his love endures forever.” This is a retelling of the Red Sea account and is used as a central text in the Passover Seder. Psalm 137 is untitled, but is clearly written by someone during the exile. And the most intense, wonderful, Top Ten Psalm is 139. Written by David, not only is there amazing poetic beauty, but it contains some very important theology regarding the sanctity of life. David will take us most of the way home from here. He writes 138-145. We are very near the end of this most blessed hymnbook.