What we are reading this week (beginning Thursday, August 26, 2021):
• Numbers 31-36 ~ Deuteronomy 1
• Ezekiel 25-31
• 1 Corinthians 15-16 ~ 2 Corinthians 1-5
• Psalms 148-150
I’m a few days late this week. If you had any idea of my week, much less my summer this year, you would offer me mercy! Nonetheless, I apologize.
Notes on Numbers
Last week, we met the prophet Balaam. We see his demise in chapter 31, verses 8 and 16. Though he had a prophetic gift and could hear clearly from God, his obstinance and wayward heart did him in. Obviously, a guy who needed a talking donkey to straighten him out was pretty crooked.
Even though he conversed with God, he was a compromiser, and eventually was killed by the army of Israel (Joshua 13.22). His sin was so great, sins referenced in the New Testament were attached to his name: the Way of Balaam (2 Peter 2.15); Balaam’s Error (Jude 1.11); and The [implied False] Teaching of Balaam in Revelation (2.14). The Israelites exact revenge on Midianites in chapter 31, who along with the Moabites had led them into sexual immorality back in chapter 25.
Starting in chapter 32, we will read about the episode of the two-and-a-half tribes (AKA The Transjordan Tribes) refusing to enter the Promised Land. The story is a sad one. The Reubenites, Gadites, and (later) the half-tribe of Manasseh decided to take their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan. They had not even seen the Promised Land yet, but decided to settle for territory outside of it. Even though they were willing to send their own men in to fight and conquer the land, their wives and children would never enter it or see it. They chose to remain outside of the promise, protection and provision of the very place God had chosen for them. Here is another example of choosing Plan B. God let them proceed because of their stubbornness and unbelief, but this was not his best plan for them. As the journey of the Hebrews is summarized in chapter 33, there is a real angst in the text, at least for me, in 33.3-4. The Israelites had found favor in the eyes of their Egyptian neighbors (Pharaoh and his band notwithstanding), and those neighbors gave freely to them as they left the land of their bondage (see Exodus 3.21-22; 12.35-36). Yet in spite of this kindness by the people, the Hebrews “marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians” who were mourning the massive death of all of their firstborn—a consequence of the stubbornness of Pharaoh, not them. The stages of Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is given to us in chapter 33. I counted a little over forty stops. I am amazed at all of the names of the places listed where the Israelites had camped during the forty years (33.5-50). . That comes out to an average of about one move per year, if my math is correct.
I would just assume some—or many—of these places were out in the middle of nowhere, with no assigned name. But that does not seem to be the case, as each stop is labeled. An entirely new set of men are appointed in 34.18-29 to lead the tribes. All the previous ones would have died. Borders of the Promised Land are also laid out in this chapter. Six cities were to be designated to be cities of refuge, sanctuary cities for those accused of murder, where they could go and live safely until a proper investigation of their alleged crime could be completed. A lot is said about these cities of refuge in the Law (e.g., 35.6-29). But nothing at all is said of them throughout the history of the Old Testament. In chapter 35, we find that the Levite families would be scattered throughout the territory of the other tribes. As the pastoral tribe, they would thereby be geographically available to everyone. The case of Zelophehad’s daughters appears again in chapter 36. Notes on Deuteronomy The fifth and final book of the Torah opens with Moses beginning a long narrative on their history from Mount Horeb forward. Deuteronomy literally means “second law”. Here we can picture Moses sitting down with the Israelites as they are positioned on the border of the Promised Land, ready to go in. He reviews their journey throughout the previous forty years, as well as re-telling the Law, hence the name. He himself will not be able to enter the land because he hit the rock instead of speaking to it (Numbers 20.11-12). But he blames the people for making God angry at him (1.37 and 4.26). The Hebrews were told to neither add nor subtract from the command of the Lord in 4.2. However, over the years the Jewish rabbis and the Pharisees added tons; e.g, the tithing of herbs (Matt 23:23; Luke 11:42); The wearing of conspicuous phylacteries and tassels (Matt 23:5); the careful observance of ritual purity (e.g., Mark 7:l ff.); frequent fastings (Matt 9:14); distinctions in oaths (23:16ff.). They justified this by claiming they were wrapping around the Law in order to help follow it correctly.
Notes on Ezekiel
The prophets prophesied to neighboring nations as well as to Israel. In chapter 25, Ezekiel has a word each for Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia. For the most part, their judgment follows the promise from God that we looked at earlier: those who bless Israel with be blessed, and those who curse her will be cursed. Even though God used other nations to discipline his own people, he nevertheless punished them for doing so, especially when they did it with glee (25.6-7). The lament concerning the king of Tyre (28.12-19) is obviously speaking of Lucifer. Beginning as the “seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty…in Eden, the garden of God” could not refer to any human, though the wicked king is a typology of Satan. Along with Isaiah 19, we get the widest picture of the origins, activity, and downfall of Satan that we find in the entire Bible. As we saw in the historical account at the end of 2 Chronicles (and in Jeremiah), many of the Jews thought that they could escape the Babylonians by running off to Egypt. Here, God lowers the boom on Pharoah, with an extended prophecy against him and against Egypt that was issued right at that time (29.1-32.32). Egypt, as we saw before, never recovered from their enormous power and glory following the destruction of their army at the Red Sea during the time of Moses. They were still a world power, but not nearly as prominent. Here in 29.14-15, God tells them that he is going to further reduce their kingdom, and after he did—to this very day—they have never recovered, just as God promised. God promised Egypt to Babylonian as a reward for being his instrument against Tyre (29.17-20; 30.10).
Notes on 1 Corinthians
In 1 Corinthians 15.3–8, Paul recites words that sound like they were part of something that was most likely recited weekly in the church meetings, hitting the main doctrines of the church.
Later in the chapter, he spends a lot of time on the resurrection. Much of what we know about the final resurrection is included in this chapter. Here, Paul makes it clear that everything we believe is keyed to the resurrection of Jesus. If there were no resurrection, there is no faith left for us to believe (verse 14). Without the resurrection, nothing we believe is valid. We have the only religion/faith completely validated on historical fact (see 15.17).
This, of course, has made the resurrection a target. Every year right before Easter, the media roll out a batch of new “ideas” and new “findings”, like, “Oh, my, we found the Book of Judas!” And every year it is indeed a brand-new set, because each year’s discovery is so weak and meaningless, its shelf life is invariably less than twelve months. This has been going on for over two thousand years. I cherish this verse: 1 Corinthians 15.10: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.
Paul ends the book with some internal housekeeping issues regarding his itinerary and some personal greetings.
Notes on 2 Corinthians
I find this the most unusual of all of Paul’s books. He gets really emotional at places. It gets personal. Chapter one deals with his recent schedule past and present, scattered with some very practical and powerful applications of faith. This theme continues on into chapter two. He goes into a situation involving forgiveness (5-11), and again we see a very personal application. At the end of the chapter, Paul begins a short segment on being ministers of the new covenant that will spill over into chapter three. He presents the metaphor of followers of Jesus being the aroma of Christ. The new covenant is contrasted with the old in the latter half of chapter three. I am especially drawn to these kinds of comparisons, finding the shadow covenant of the Old Testament fascinating with all of its implications for the new. The analogy of jars of clay is presented in chapter four. There is a valuable treasure that God keeps in ordinary jars. It is the treasure inside of us that has value. The best we can do is to be clean jars so that the treasure can more easily be seen. The less of us noticed, the better! Paul talks in chapter five about our new resurrected bodies again. And we find the very powerful words of verse ten: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” So much of the gospel is packed into the second half of this chapter: the ministry of reconciliation. God reconciles with us, then gives us the power to do likewise to others. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (5.17-20). An allusion to resurrection, a rare find in the Old Testament, is found in Hosea 13.14. Paul will quote this in 1 Corinthians 15.55, the so-called “resurrection chapter.”
Notes on Psalms
We finally close out one of the four strands. After Saturday, we will reduce our reading to three chapters a day. We have come to the end of this most wonderful book! The last three psalms are splendid songs of praise. This is a great end to such a magnificent book. Of course, we are always free to go back to it anytime!