What we are reading this week (beginning Thursday, August 18, 2021):
• Numbers 24-30
• Ezekiel 18-24
• 1 Corinthians 8-14
• Psalms 141-147
Notes on Numbers
It’s still hard to understand how God could speak directly to a wicked person like Balaam (a spiritually gifted person who nonetheless tended to waver in the wind), but at least he found a desire to do what he saw pleased the Lord (24.1)
He delivers messages 3-7 to Balak, and is unwilling to compromise the message for any amount of money (24.13), even though he will compromise himself and others in other ways soon.
That compromise begins immediately in the first verse of chapter 25; but we will have to wait until Revelation 2.14 to find out that Balaam was behind this.
The second census commences in 26.2. The only two older than twenty who were include on the first census were Caleb and Joshua, the faithful spies (26.64-65). All of the rest had died.
Remarkably, after Korah’s rebellion and the destruction of his family in chapter 16, some of his line still remained (26.11).
Moses’ family is listed in 26.59: Dad Amram, Mom Jochebed, big sis Miriam, and big bro Aaron.
Moses mentored and then commissioned Joshua to follow him as the next leader, a role that he took on with great success (27.20).
We see the Urim discussed in 27.21. The Urim and the Thummim were like holy dice, and were kept inside the high priest’s garments, used to find God’s will on binary choices (yes/no).
In chapter 28, we immediately switch back to regulations regarding offerings, Passover, and the Festival of Weeks.
Chapter 29 continues this, now revisiting the Festival of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Festival of Tabernacles.
Vows regarding women are given in chapter 30. Modern women today would go crazy over regulations like this, but this was a protection for them.
Notes on Ezekiel
In ancient times, the responsibly for the sins of the fathers were often assigned to the children, as well. God responds to this issue in chapter 18, making it clear that each person is responsible for their own sin. God also admonishes them to realize that change can happen: Those who do evil can change their ways, but so can those who do good.
Ezekiel gives us lament over Israel in chapter 19, in the form of an allegory once again.
Some elders come to the prophet in 20.1 to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord unloads on them big time.
After the lament, God issues some detail in chapter 21 on how they will be given over into the hands of the Babylonians.
In chapter 22, God spells out specific sins for which he is about to pour out judgment.
A long, extended allegory of two adulterous sisters is Ezekiel’s message in chapter 23. The sisters depict the northern and southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah (23.4, identified by the capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem, respectively).
The story does not end well, since it is pointing to their imminent demise through God’s judgment.
Two more harsh living illustrations are handed to Ezekiel for chapter 24. The first is to put on a cooking pot (even though it is not certain that he actually was supposed to literally do this).
The second is that his wife would die as a symbol of the coming loss to the nation. As I say every year, I think this is where I would have handed in my notice as a prophet. That was asking more than I think I could bear.
Notes on 1 Corinthians
Eating food sacrificed to idols was a thing back then. Whether followers of Jesus should actually each such food created a dilemma, with two camps in the church. Paul assured them that idols don’t matter. But the more important issue was being sensitive to those that don’t see it our way.
Notice this line: “So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge” (8.11). Today, many believers still use their “knowledge” as a weapon to inflict “friendly fire” damage in the church.
Paul appeals to the Corinthians that he has rights that he does not even use. It’s hard to believe that he still had to convince some of them that he had an authoritative voice to be able to speak into this congregation.
In chapter 10 he warns them that simple membership in the right spiritual community didn’t count for much—actually, it didn’t count for anything. They each needed to set their own hearts in the right direction.
He comes back to idol feasts and the Lord’s Supper, and seems to contradict what he said in chapter 8 about idols and meat in 10.20-21.
Head coverings are covered at the beginning of chapter eleven (don’t even get me started!). The end of the chapter is about the Lord’s Supper, and though that famous meal is given in detail in each of the four gospels, Paul’s words of 11.23-26 are by far the most used in church’s celebrations of this ordinance.
In chapters 12-14, Paul expounds on spiritual gifts: what they are, how they function in the body, how the body itself functions. Chapter 13 is thought by some that had been written earlier as a separate piece, and then inserted here in order to keep perspective on this volatile issue. I would not doubt that this is what happened.
One of my favorite paraphrases/summaries for chapter 13 was given by a friend many years ago: “Love hardly even notices when it is wronged.”
The way the gifts are demonstrated in chapter 14 seems to make far more sense in a small group setting than a corporate worship service.
Notes on Psalms
This is the last full week of reading in Psalms. This is always kind of sad to me. But of course there is nothing that says we can’t read things that aren’t on our formal reading list!
David is such an amazing poet. It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that his man killed so many people in a primitive time (you often had to get very close physically to the enemy in order to slay him). But he had such a wonderful heart toward God.
In 141, the entire chapter is just overflowing with intimacy with God. I especially like verse two: “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”
Psalms 142 and 143 are cries for mercy.
In 144.1, the allusion to hands and fingers for war has been embraced by myself and other musicians who see their ministry (at times) as an instrument (no pun intended) of spiritual warfare.
The imagery of sons and daughter in 144.12 is wonderful:
“Then our sons in their youth
will be like well-nurtured plants,
and our daughters will be like pillars
carved to adorn a palace.”
Psalm 145 is David’s last contribution to this amazing hymnbook. I have not taken the time to memorize this one, but am greatly tempted to put it on my list.