Thursday, December 31, 2020

Numbers. Day 29, Complaints On The Journey, Part One

We find something in Numbers 11 that is common to human nature: complaining. The complaints in this passage are not peculiar to Israel but are typical of all mankind, so I want to begin this section by pointing out that no other group of people would have done any better about keeping a positive attitude all the time. I am not sure I ever make it through a day without complaining about something. While studying Chapter 11 we must keep in mind that even when life is going really well for us we still tend to complain about minor inconveniences. When life is all topsy turvy we find it even easier to complain. The Israelites are being led by God through the wilderness and they are being provided for by God through the wilderness, but let's not forget that their lives are pretty topsy turvy right now. They have left the only land they've ever known and are currently someplace they've never been and are headed for a land they've never seen. Although we'll find God becoming justifiably perturbed by their murmuring against Him and their lack of trust in Him, we---as mere human beings like they were---have no right to judge them considering how often we murmur and complain.

"Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when He heard them His anger was aroused." (Numbers 11:1) In yesterday's passage they received their orders to break camp and move out of Sinai. We don't know what specific hardships they are complaining about in verse 1. All we know is that it didn't take long for complaints to start. The Lord has just rescued them from hundreds of years of slavery, has provided for them all the way from Egypt to Sinai, has given them the law, has given them a tabernacle where He can meet with them, has handed down the regulations for going about their religious lives and forming a government and society, and is giving them a land flowing with milk and honey. When He hears the complaints He is displeased. He never promised that leaving Egypt and moving across the desert and taking over the promised land would be like a walk in the park, but He's providing for them every step of the way. The visible sign of His presence is always with them in the cloud by day and the fiery cloud by night. He never said everything they'll face along the way would be easy, but He promised to be with them and take care of them.

"Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them." (Numbers 11:2) The word "Taberah" simply means "burning". The Lord dwells among them not only as their provider and comforter but also as their judge. God is a God of love but also---because He is righteous---He is a God of wrath. He blesses obedience, not sin.

The people call out to Moses to intercede for them with God. He calls out to the Lord and the Lord causes the fire to go out. This is proof that the fire which broke out was sent from the Lord and was not simply a natural occurrence. It appeared at His command and it dispersed at His command.

This is going to teach everyone a lesson about complaining, right? No. You'll recall that we were told in Exodus that a mixed multitude went up from Egypt with the Israelites when they departed. These other groups are going to start griping about the limited menu in the wilderness. The Israelites (who feel the same way about eating manna day after day after day) will begin to voice their dissatisfaction with the food as well. "The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, 'If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost---also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!'" (Numbers 11:4-5) 

Food was provided to them in Egypt because they were slaves. The Egyptians weren't going to allow their workforce to starve to death any more than a farmer is going to allow the ox that pulls his plow to starve to death. But the food wasn't free because the people weren't free. Food was provided to maintain their lives so the Egyptians could maintain their country through the forced labor of the people they had oppressed. By contrast the manna actually is free. The people are free of Egypt and a nutritionally complete food is being provided to them by God for free. But they want to eat flesh (and we can safely assume that some of the meats provided to them in Egypt were either from unclean animals or were prepared by unclean methods) and they want more variety in their diet and they want seasoning to spice up their diet.

But aren't we all like this? God gives us what is best for us and yet we crave something else. We crave things that are outside of His will for us and we complain about not having those things as if God is deliberately keeping something good and pleasurable from us. We think the grass is greener on the other side. Or we think that some of the things we enjoyed while living in sin were more exciting than the things we experience now as children of God. That's what's happening to the Israelites in Chapter 11. They are operating on selective memory. They are pushing aside all the memories of their centuries of slavery in Egypt and remembering only that they had plenty of food and plenty of variety and plenty of spices. Never mind that they ate that food while their backs ached from a long day of hard labor. Never mind that they ate that food in homes they weren't free to leave. The food was of a type that satisfied the carnal desires of the flesh and that's all they can think about right now. 

We all become carnally minded from time to time, which is why the Apostle Paul warns us not to be live by what the flesh tells us but to live by what the Spirit tells us. "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." (Romans 8:6) In Chapter 11 the minds of the Israelites and the minds of the other people with them are being governed by the flesh. 

Whatever manna was, it was a perfect food. It was designed to support every function of the human body. It contained every necessary vitamin and mineral. It was far better for them than the Egyptian menu they craved. But again, aren't we all like these people in the wilderness? Even when the Lord gives us the family that's best for us, the job that's best for us, the home that's best for us---we sometimes look around us and think others are living better lives than we are. We sometimes compare what we have to what others have and feel like we're coming up short. Or we'll think back to the things we said and did before we came to faith and we'll remember that lifestyle as being easier. Back then we weren't governed by the Spirit. We did what we wanted when we wanted. We look back on those days with selective memory, forgetting how miserable our sin made us, forgetting the nights when we tossed and turned worrying about the fate of our eternal souls, forgetting that we had no true peace and contentment when we had no relationship with our Creator. 

Remembering sin fondly is a dangerous thing. It causes us to crave things that have no place in our lives. It causes us to forget how miserable sin made us and how much it caused us to fear the wrath of God. When I was living in sin I had many a sleepless night worrying about what would happen to my soul if I died in my sleep. In the daytime I was living it up, so to speak, and doing whatever I pleased and even enjoying the fact that I was living in opposition to all I'd been taught was godly and right. If I chose only to think back on the way I lived in the "pleasures of sin for a season" (Hebrews 11:25) I might start to forget how truly awful it was to live at a far distance from the God who loves me. In today's passage we find the people who were recently rescued from Egypt thinking back only on the huge variety of food that was available to them in Egypt. But while they were in Egypt they had very little freedom of religion. They could pray quietly in their own homes but couldn't bring sacrifices and offerings to the Lord. They couldn't hold public worship services. Now that they are free they are free to know and worship God in a way never before possible. This is what they need to focus on. They are on their way to a land where food better than that of Egypt will be available to them. That is what they need to focus on. You and I may be going through hardships right now but we mustn't let that cause us to yearn for sinful easy living and we mustn't let it cause us to be content with a mediocre relationship with the Lord. He has far better things in store for us, spiritually speaking, than anything we've left behind.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Numbers. Day 28, The Israelites Leave Sinai

The Israelites must wait for the cloud to lift from over the tabernacle before they break camp. Today is when it happens.

"On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. They set out, this first time, at the Lord's command through Moses." (Numbers 10:11-13) The Israelites have been free of Egypt for just over a year. Earlier in our chapter they completed the first annual observation of Passover since leaving Egypt. Their men have been numbered and their duties assigned: if they are Levites, their duties have to do with the tabernacle; if they are from the other tribes, their able-bodied men of the right age have been counted for the army. They have been given the ten commandments and laws with which to build a society. They've been provided with the tabernacle and with the regulations regarding offerings and sacrifices. The foundation for their religious life has been put in place. It's time to move out.

"The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. Nathanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulon. Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gersonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out." (Numbers 10:14-17) These three tribes march out under the flag of Judah, which as we studied earlier in Numbers was thought to bear the likeness of a lion. The Lord has already given the camps the order in which they are to move out and here we find them following His guidelines. The Gershonites and Merarites are the Levite clans who carry the curtains and the framing of the tabernacle. The other Levite clan, the Kohathites, don't move out until the second division strikes camp. 

"The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived." (Numbers 10:18-21) Ancient tradition has it that the flag of Reuben depicted a man or the head of a man. The Kohathties, who carry the furnishings of the tabernacle, don't move out at the same time as the other two Levite clans. The Gersonites and Merarites move out with the first camp so they will have time to have the tabernacle set up before the Kohathites arrive.

"The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin." (Numbers 10:22-24) Their flag may have borne a picture of an ox. 

"Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out." (Numbers 10:25-28) The ancient tradition regarding the standards is that the flag of Dan showed the figure of an eagle.

Moses now asks his brother-in-law, Hobab, to remain with Israel and go with her into the promised land. You'll recall from Exodus that Moses' father-in-law (sometimes referred to as Jethro, other times referred to as Reuel) gave him fatherly advice about not taking on too much of the work himself. Moses' father-in-law instructed him how to delegate some of the work so he would not collapse from exhaustion, which he was apparently on the verge of doing. Moses feels the presence of Hobab will be valuable to Israel as they move ahead toward the promised land. "Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, 'We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, 'I will give it to you.' Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.'" (Numbers 10:29) The blessings the Lord is going to pour out on Israel will overflow onto anyone who loves and supports Israel. Moses says to Hobab, "You don't want to miss the things the Lord is doing for Israel. Come and be a part of it. We would love you have you with us so you can have a share in the great things the Lord has in store for us."

Hobab's first impulse is to return to his own hometown and his own people. "He answered, 'No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and to my own people'" (Numbers 10:30) With the Lord guiding Israel, Hobab doesn't feel he is needed. He thinks he can be more useful to the people of his own land than to the people of Israel. But the Lord often---more often than not---invites people to participate in the great things He is doing. The Lord doesn't need the help of man, but man needs to invest his time and effort so that he will also invest his heart. Hobab possesses knowledge and skills that Moses feels will contribute greatly to the safety of Israel, and even though the Lord was fully capable of protecting Israel on His own, He invites this Midianite man to be a part of the formation of the great nation of Israel. He issues the invitation through Moses. "But Moses said, 'Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.'" (Numbers 10:31-32) The Lord is going to show the entire congregation of Israel where to camp, but there will be several times when smaller parties will be sent out on various missions. Hobab knows the wilderness like the back of his hand. He will be able to tell the parties which routes to take and where to camp safely out of sight of raiders.

"So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place of rest. The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp. Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, 'Rise up, Lord! May Your enemies be scattered and Your foes flee before You.' Whenever it came to rest, he said, 'Return, Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel.'" (Numbers 10:33-36) King David wrote a psalm in regard to verses 33-36 and we'll close with some of his words: "May God arise, may His enemies be scattered; may His foes flee before Him. May You blow them away like smoke---as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God. But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful." (Psalm 68:1-3)

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Numbers. Day 27, The Silver Trumpets: A Means Of Communication For The Israelite Community

The Israelites are about to leave Sinai in tomorrow's passage. They are going to need a way to communicate to the entire assembly when to come together to move out. The Lord will command Moses to have two silver trumpets manufactured and these trumpets will be used for communicating several types of information to the congregation, much like we use churchwide texts in today's world. I have been signed up for several years now to receive these texts from my church. The texts have notified me about all sorts of things like church schedule changes, prayer requests, the deaths of church members, funeral services for church members---and of course this year there have been a lot of texts regarding service cancellations due to Covid-19 outbreaks and/or changes in safety protocols. But the ancient Israelites didn't have the technology we possess today. This doesn't mean they were left in the dark about anything important that was going on; the Lord is going to make sure every person is able to receive all the notifications they need to receive.

"The Lord said to Moses: 'Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the tent of meeting.'" (Numbers 10:1-3) It was necessary to construct two trumpets. If both trumpets are sounded, everyone is to assemble together. If only one trumpet is sounded, only the community leaders need to assemble while everyone else goes on with their day. "If only one is sounded, the leaders---the heads of the clans of Israel---are to assemble before you." (Numbers 10:4) We learned the names of these men in Numbers 1: Elizur, Shelumiel, Nahshon, Nathanel, Eliab, Elishama, Gamaliel, Abidan, Ahiezer, Pagiel, Eliasaph, and Ahira.

It is believed these would have been long trumpet sounds: a long blow on both trumpets to assemble the entire community, a long blow on one trumpet to assemble the leaders. It appears that a shorter blast is used to tell the tribes to break camp and move out. "When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to move out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out." (Numbers 10:5-6a) The breaking of camp is to be conducted in an orderly fashion. The first short blast lets the eastern camps know to move out. The second short blast lets the southern camps know to move out. As the Apostle Paul said when telling the Christian churches that their services must be conducted in a respectful and orderly fashion, "God is not a God of disorder." (1 Corinthians 14:33a) Some translations of the Bible render this verse as, "God is not a God of confusion." The Lord is going to make it clear when and how the people are to move out so that there is no confusion. 

If the Lord had not given specific instructions for how the tribes are to break camp and move out, confusion might have ensued. People would have gotten in each other's way and arguments might have broken out or people might have tripped over each other or gotten their livestock all entangled with each other. Breaking camp would have taken far longer than necessary if it hadn't been done in an orderly fashion, just as if everyone in the entire church congregation got up at one time and rushed for the doors. In my church they dismiss the congregation one row of pews at a time and this is an effective, respectful, and orderly manner of exiting the building. The tribes of Israel are to break camp and move out in an effective, respectful, and orderly manner. 

The particular blast the Lord speaks of in verses 5 and 6 is unique and is to be taken as an order to get ready to move out immediately. "The blast will be a signal for setting out." (Numbers 10:6b) This blast for moving out is never to be used to gather the assembly. "To gather the assembly, blow the trumpets, but not with the signal for setting out." (Numbers 10:7)

Someone must be put in charge of blowing the trumpets and now we find out who that is. "The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets." (Numbers 10:8a) No one else is in charge of performing this duty.

The two trumpets are blown long and loud to assemble the entire community. One trumpet is blown long and loud to assemble only the leaders. A short blast is sounded to tell the eastern camps to move out. A second short blast is sounded to tell the southern camps to move out. The trumpets are also to be sounded for other occasions, such as when going into battle or when celebrating a festival to the Lord. "This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy that is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies. Also at your times of rejoicing---your appointed festivals and New Moon feasts---you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God." (Numbers 10:8b-10) 

When an enemy comes against Israel, the trumpets are to be blown not only to call the army together but to call the Lord to their aid. It's not that the Lord doesn't know when an enemy comes against His people; it's that the trumpet call acknowledges their need for Him and their dependence upon Him. The trumpet call is like a prayer for help and it symbolizes the fact that God is the mighty defender of Israel. A number of times in the Bible we'll find the Lord's people being victorious in battle even when they are vastly outnumbered. This is because the Lord is fighting on their side. With the Lord on their side, they can't lose. Or as the Apostle Paul put it, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

You and I have the trumpet call of prayer at our disposal whenever we find ourselves facing a battle. Our first instinct should always be to call out to the Lord for help. We need Him. We can't make it through this world victoriously on our own. We don't have to fight our battles alone and the Lord never intended for us to fight our battles alone. "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me." (Psalm 28:7)

Monday, December 28, 2020

Numbers. Day 26, The Cloud Above The Tabernacle: Waiting On The Lord

In Exodus 40:17 we were told, "So the tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month in the second year." (Exodus 40:17) Today's passage speaks of something that happened on the day the tabernacle was set up---something that continues to happen as the children of Israel go from place to place in the wilderness.

Our text begins like this: "On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening til morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire." (Numbers 9:15-16) From sunset til sunrise, the glory of the Lord was like a fire over the tabernacle. The typical artist's rendering of the cloud of fire usually looks something like this:

We don't know, of course, exactly what the Israelites saw, but I have no doubt that the glory of the Lord was visible at night to everyone in the camp.

In Exodus we were told that the cloud settled over the tabernacle but we were not informed that it glowed like fire during the nighttime hours. "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." (Exodus 40:34-35) No work could be performed for a time when the presence of the Lord came down to bless and consecrate the tabernacle. A similar thing also happened on the day King Solomon dedicated the temple to the Lord. Once the ark of the covenant was set in place inside the newly built temple, the Bible says, "When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled His temple." (1 Kings 8:10-11) This cloud symbolizes the Lord's blessing upon the meeting place and His blessing upon Israel, also it represents His willingness to dwell with the people of Israel. 

In addition, the cloud symbolizes the Lord's guidance, for when the cloud remained over the tabernacle, the people were to remain camped where they were. When the cloud moved, the people were to move. "Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; whenever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at His command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp." (Numbers 9:17-18) Moses provided us with this information in Exodus 40:36-38, "In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out---until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels." The Lord trained the Israelites to constantly look to Him for guidance. Twenty-four hours a day there was a visible sign of God's presence with them and the people consulted this sign before making any plans for the day or night.

This next verse has something very important in it that we don't want to miss. "When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord's order and did not set out." (Numbers 9:19) Sometimes the cloud remained over the tabernacle for a long time. We find it relatively easy to wait a short time for the Lord to move, don't we? But what about when we have to wait for a long time? We often begin to have doubts or begin to feel restless. We sometimes go ahead and move out anyway, even though the Lord wants us to remain still. I've moved out ahead of the Lord a few times in my life and I've regretted it every time. He didn't even have to dish out any fatherly discipline for my disobedience; the natural consequences of getting out of His will were bad enough. Every time I've gotten ahead of the Lord I've made a huge mess of things. Getting ahead of Him has cost me something each time, whether the price was peace of mind or time or money or the loss of an opportunity or some type of aggravation for myself and for those around me. One hasty decision in particular still bothers me many years later, long after everyone but me has probably forgotten about it, but I still feel angry and disappointed at myself. I still feel sad when I think about it. I am pretty sure I always will feel sad about it, but lessons we learn the hard way are lessons we don't tend to forget, and the most I can do to redeem my mistake is not to repeat it.

I have to commend the Israelites for their obedience. They deserve their faith to be recognized for staying put no matter how long the Lord told them to stay put. "Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord's command they would encamp, and then at His command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening til morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. They obeyed the Lord's order, in accordance with His command through Moses." (Numbers 9:20-23)

One of the hardest things for us to do is to sit still, isn't it? Especially when we want something in our circumstances to change. We always seem to feel like we need to do something to fix our situation ourselves. It's a human failing to want to follow this advice: "Don't just stand there; do something!", instead of following God's advice which is often, "Don't just do something; stand there!" 

I don't know what type of guidance you need from the Lord in this season of your life, but the best advice I can give you, based on the Holy Bible, is not to get ahead of God. In troubled times the temptation is strong to take some sort of action to change or fix our circumstances, but God is never caught off guard by our circumstances. He always knew they were coming. He always had a plan in place for dealing with them. He knows when it's best for us to move ahead and He knows when it's best for us to sit still. If there is anything we need to do, God will show us when to do it. But there are times when He doesn't expect us to even lift a finger on our own behalf; He just wants us to sit back and watch Him fight and win the battle for us, so He says, "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10a)

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Numbers. Day 25, Passover In The Wilderness/An Alternate Date Of Observance For Those With Extenuating Circumstances

In Chapter 9 the Israelites celebrate the first Passover since the one they observed on the night before the Lord rescued them from Egypt.

"The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 'Have all the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.' So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses." (Numbers 9:1-5) We studied the rules and regulations for Passover earlier in the Old Testament and will not go over them again here, but if you'd like to take a look back at them you can find them in Exodus 12.

Some of the congregation is ceremonially unclean. "But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron on that same day and said to Moses, 'We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord's offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?'" (Numbers 9:6-7) 

I think what has happened here is that a person died of natural causes and his or her relatives had to deal with the funeral preparations and burial. I very much doubt that only one family found themselves in this situation at this time; the number of people in the wilderness is believed to have numbered 2,000,000 at least. It's statistically impossible that only one family, among 2,000,000 or more persons, found themselves in this situation. Some scholars think that only this particular group cared enough about Passover to come and ask Moses and Aaron if they could still participate. Other scholars think these men were the spokespeople for all who were wondering whether they could still participate in Passover after handling the body of a deceased family member.

Moses doesn't know the answer to their question so he goes to the tabernacle to consult the Lord. We know this is what he did because earlier in Numbers we were told that the Lord would speak to him from between the cherubim on the cover of the ark of the covenant. "Moses answered them, 'Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.'" (Numbers 9:8)

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Tell the Israelites: When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord's Passover, but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight.'" (Numbers 9:9-11a) The Lord provides an alternate day for these persons to observe the Passover. They cannot observe it while ceremonially unclean, for the Lord said in Leviticus 22:3, "For the generations to come, if any of your descendants is ceremonially unclean and yet comes near the sacred offerings that the Israelites consecrate to the Lord, that person must be cut off from My presence. I am the Lord." The men who came to Moses to ask what they should do are aware of what the Lord has said regarding ceremonial uncleanness. They want to be obedient to Him. At the same time, they want to observe Passover and commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. The Lord is not going to exclude them from Passover; He rewards their faith and obedience by providing them with an alternate date on which to observe the holiday.

He reminds them they are still to keep all the rules and regulations even though they won't be celebrating on the same day as the majority of the congregation. This alternate Passover is not to be treated casually. "They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They must not leave any of it til morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations." (Numbers 9:11b-12)

Everyone else in the congregation is required to observe Passover at the traditional time. If there are not some circumstances which make it impossible to observe the holiday, the person who does not observe it is to be excommunicated. "But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord's offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin." (Numbers 9:13)

You'll recall that in the exodus we were told it was not only Israelites who left Egypt. "Many other people went up with them." (Exodus 12:38a) In some versions of the Bible this passage is rendered as, "A mixed multitude went up with them." Everyone who is living among the congregation of Israel in the wilderness is required to observe the Passover. Anyone who joins the nation of Israel from this point on is to observe the Passover, whether they've married into an Israelite family, whether they are living in an Israelite's household as a servant or slave, whether they are a convert to the religion of Israel, and so on. "A foreigner residing among you is to celebrate the Lord's Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born." (Numbers 9:14)

The men who come to Moses for instructions in our passage today want to honor the Lord. They could have just said among themselves, "Well, we're disqualified from observing Passover this year. Maybe we can do it next year." They could have gone on about their business and considered themselves excused from taking part in one of the three required festivals of the year. But they love the Lord and want to celebrate what He did for them when He rescued them from Egypt. They want to think about Him and reverence Him on this holy day. They come to Moses for guidance, not because they want to be excused from Passover, but because they are hoping they can still be included in Passover. The Lord graciously provides them with a way to still be able to take part in this solemn occasion.

The Lord knows what is in a person's heart and He rewards each person accordingly. He enjoys honoring those who have a willingness to honor Him.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Numbers. Day 24, Setting Apart The Levites For The Lord's Service: Their Cleansing Ceremony

Today we'll look at the ceremonial cleansing of the Levites as a whole. In the book of Leviticus we studied the ceremonial cleansing of Aaron and his sons, but although the tribe of Levi is the priestly tribe, not every man of the tribe of Levi is a priest. Earlier in Numbers we saw the tabernacle duties assigned to the three clans of the Levite tribe. Because they will be serving at the tabernacle they must be ceremonially clean.

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean. To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves. Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering. Bring the Levites to the front of the tent of meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community. You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord.'" (Numbers 8:5-11) We don't know the purpose for the shaving, but we found incidences of shaving earlier in the Bible. A healed leper was to shave his whole body as part of his ceremonial cleansing. A person who had fulfilled a Nazarite vow was to shave all the hair off their head when the vow was completed. I think the shaving signifies a fresh start. Some Bible scholars believe it may symbolize being born again; newborn babies typically don't have as much hair on their heads and bodies as an adult. Occasionally you'll see a newborn with a full head of thick hair but these tend to be the exception. 

"Then the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, using one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be Mine." (Numbers 8:12-14) Laying their hands on the heads of the bulls symbolically transfers their sins to the bulls. They are acknowledging that these animals are standing in for them. I am not sure how a wave offering was done with human beings. With a sacrifice, usually a portion of the meat was waved before the Lord. Or if the offering was of firstfruits, a sheaf of wheat might be waved before the Lord. Perhaps the Levites lined up and passed by the tabernacle one by one, but the Bible doesn't tell us how their wave offering was accomplished.

"After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come do their work at the tent of meeting. They are the Israelites who are given wholly to Me. I have taken them as My own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is Mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for Myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons of Israel." (Numbers 8:15-18) You'll recall from Exodus that, due to the stubbornness of Pharaoh, he refused time and time again to let the Israelites go. Even after the Lord began to send plagues, each one increasing in severity, Pharaoh opposed Him until the Lord brought the final plague upon Egypt: the death of the firstborn sons of all the Egyptians and the death of the firstborn of all the cattle of the Egyptians. Because this is what it took to secure Israel's release, the firstborn son and the firstborn of all the animals of the Israelites are consecrated to the Lord to commemorate what happened on Passover night. The firstborn males among the animals were offered to the Lord, with the exception of unclean animals (such as a donkey), but an unclean animal could be redeemed by offering a clean one in its place. Of course the Israelites weren't to offer their sons in sacrifice to the Lord. Also the Israelites weren't expected to send every one of their firstborn sons to serve at the tabernacle; that would have been too many workers. The Lord took the tribe of Levi (the smallest tribe in Israel at that time) in place of all the firstborn sons. This tribe now symbolizes all the firstborn males of Israel.

"From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary." (Numbers 8:19) Purity is required to approach God. King David asked this question in Psalm 24:3, "Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?" Then he answers his own question, saying, "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." (Psalm 24:4) But we can't keep our hands clean from sin at all times and we can't keep our minds free of wrong thoughts at all times. We've all engaged in some form of idolatry by giving ourselves or someone else or something else the priority over God. This is why we need atonement made for us---we need a sacrifice that can somehow transfer purity upon us. In the Old Testament this was done by sacrifice and through the faith required to believe that, symbolically, one's sins were transferred to the sacrificial animal and that the Lord would accept the sacrifice on the person's behalf. Since Christ came in the New Testament and gave Himself as a perfect and eternal atoning sacrifice, we are made clean by our faith in Him. How do we approach God in the church age? Through His Son who said, "No man comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) Because we come to God through Christ, in whom we have trusted for salvation, God accepts our confessions of sin and cleanses us of our sins. (1 John 1:9)

"Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the Lord and made atonement for them to purify them. After that, the Levites came to do their work at the tent of meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. The Lord said to Moses, 'This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.'" (Numbers 8:20-26) In Numbers 6 we were told that the men's duties at the tabernacle began at age thirty. Why do we find the age of twenty-five referenced here in verse 24? It is believed that the men began their apprenticeship at the age of twenty-five. Only after five years of training---after they knew every facet of their duties inside out and could perform them almost perfectly---could they take on their full responsibilities.

Anything we do for the Lord is worth doing well. We should do it in a spirit of humility and purity, to the best of our ability, as we find the Levites doing in today's passage.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Numbers. Day 23. Setting Up The Lampstand: The Light Of The Lord

In Monday's study we learned that the Lord would speak to Moses from between the cherubim atop the ark of the covenant when Moses would go into the tabernacle to seek His will. Today we'll see what He said to Moses during one of these times.

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to Aaron and say to him, 'When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand.' Aaron did so; he set up the lamps so that they faced forward on the lampstand, just as the Lord commanded Moses. This is how the lampstand was made: It was made of hammered gold---from its base to its blossoms. The lampstand was made exactly like the pattern the Lord had shown Moses." (Numbers 8:1-4) We studied the lampstand's design in more detail while we were in the book of Exodus, when the Lord described to Moses the way it was to be constructed.

This was a seven-branched candlestick and it was the only source of artificial light within the tabernacle. You'll recall from Exodus that the Lord instructed Moses that the tabernacle was to have four coverings over it: one of linen, one of goats hair, one of ram skins dyed red, and one of "durable leather" supposed to have perhaps been badger skins. The interior of the tabernacle would have lain in deep shadows and could have been quite gloomy if not for the seven lights burning brightly atop the candlestick. 

Nearly all of the commentaries I consulted regarding verses 8-14 spiritualized this passage in various ways, with none of them in complete agreement with each other, and with some of them spiritualizing these verses to the point that all practical meaning was lost. We could spend a great deal of time discussing the specifics of the lampstand's design and why it had seven branches and what the gold may have symbolized and what the oil may have symbolized. But it seems to me that in these verse the Lord wants to make certain the lampstand is set up in a certain way so as to provide the maximum amount of light for the space in which the priests must work. These men have duties to attend to in the tabernacle and the Lord doesn't expect them to perform their work in the dark. 

It's never the Lord's will for us to stumble about in the darkness. He has provided us with His word which is "a lamp for my feet, a light for my path". (Psalm 119:105) Neglecting the reading of the word of God is like trying to navigate a steep and rocky path at night without a flashlight. The Lord is a good father who doesn't want His children stumbling and falling and hurting themselves. He has provided us with an awesome instruction book---the Holy Bible---to help us make the best and most godly choices in life. "The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes." (Psalm 19:8)

The Lord Himself is also a light for us. He provides the bright spot we need in a dark and fallen world. He enlightens the darkness of the human experience on earth with His love, His presence, His favor, His comfort, and His power. King David, a man who endured several dark times in his life, had this to say of the Lord: "You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light." (2 Samuel 22:29, Psalm 18:28) The prophet Ezra thanked the Lord for being the light in troubled times, "Our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage." (Ezra 9:8b) The prophet Micah trusted in the Lord to avenge Israel upon her enemies and raise Israel back up again and he said, "Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light." (Micah 7:8) This verse from the book of Micah was a great comfort to me in a troubled season when each day seemed to dawn dark and oppressive and when my problems seemed unending. If the Lord had not been my light during those days I'd have sunk into hopelessness and despair, but He cast a glow of hope and comfort all around me, just as the lampstand cast a glow all around the priests as they did their work in the tabernacle. In my time of darkness the Lord reminded me that He is the true source of all light and hope and comfort and help. I like to think that the light of the lampstand reminded the priests of this same truth.

During David's lifetime there were plots to take his life and plots to take his crown. He could easily have given in to fear but instead he reminded himself that if he reverenced God he need not fear anyone else. With God on his side, there was nothing his enemies could do to him, so he comforted himself with these words: "The Lord is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1) With the Lord on our side, we need not be overcome with fear. We are to focus instead on Him, the light. The world around us can seem pretty dark. We could easily fall into the trap of thinking solely about bad news or worrying about all the "what ifs". But somehow, when we gaze upon the Lord, these anxieties recede into the shadows behind us. When the priests entered the tabernacle, the outside world receded behind them and they performed their duties within the circle of light cast by the lampstand. They focused on the Lord---the source of light---and this helped to remind them that He is the light of the world.

We find two references to the "light of the world" in the New Testament. God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) As the word of God made flesh (John 1:14), and as the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3), the Lord Jesus was literally the light of God on earth. If we place our faith in Him for salvation and follow Him, we will never find ourselves stumbling around in the darkness. Jesus also says that we---those who place our trust in Him---are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14) As Christians we are His representatives. We are to do what He would do. We are to say what He would say. If people do not see the light of Christ in us, and if they do not feel like we love and care about them, we can hardly expect them to want to hear the gospel message from us. To lead people to Jesus we must be like Jesus, who is the light, and in whom is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5) 

The world has seemed a more dangerous place than ever this year, but the Lord never changes. The best thing we can do for ourselves and for others is to place our focus and our hope in Him (the light) and to shine the light of Jesus on those around us.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Numbers. Day 22, The Lord Instructs Moses In The Tabernacle With An Audible Voice

Yesterday we concluded all but the final verse of Numbers 7 which appears to begin a new section that goes with Numbers 8. 

"When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him." (Numbers 7:89) Previously the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. Now that the tabernacle has been set up and dedicated, Moses goes inside to consult with the Lord. Our text seems to indicate that the Lord communed with Moses by using an audible voice. 

This is not the only passage in the Old Testament which suggests the Lord spoke this way to human beings in the days of old. In Genesis we learned that the Lord was in the habit of walking in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day and communing with Adam. We find the Lord calling Abraham out of the pagan city of Ur and then making him many promises during his lifetime regarding his descendants and the promised land. We find the Lord giving direction to men like Isaac and Jacob. We see from our text today that He spoke audibly to Moses, plus earlier in the Bible He spoke audibly to the entire congregation of Israel when they were assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai. Later in the Old Testament, when the Lord places a prophetic calling upon the life of Samuel, the young Samuel keeps being woken out of slumber thinking he hears a voice calling his name. 

In the New Testament we find God speaking audibly in the presence of the crowd by the river when Jesus was baptized. He also spoke audibly in the presence of three of the disciples at what is called the "transfiguration" when Jesus was on a mountain with Peter, James, and John and His appearance changed in a glorious way that gave these men a glimpse (as much of a glimpse as they could stand) of His true power and radiance. 

Does God speak audibly today? Well, He certainly could if He wanted to, but these speaking occasions became farther and farther apart in the Old Testament as He called men to be prophets to speak to Israel on His behalf and as more and more of the Scriptures began to be written down. In New Testament times (and in the current church age) believers in Christ are literally indwelt by the Holy Spirit who speaks to us in addition to us having the word of God to consult. If the Lord needed to speak audibly in our times then I believe He could and would, but in our day each of us who belongs to the Lord has the ability to come to Him directly in prayer to seek His will, and each of us has access to the Bible and the actual words of Jesus Christ which we are to read in a prayerful and obedient attitude, and each of us has the Holy Spirit to whom we should yield ourselves for instruction. The Lord has spoken to human beings using a variety of methods over the ages. He used whichever method was needed for the time period and whichever method was most suitable for the instruction of the person or persons with whom He was communing. But these days He speaks to us primarily through God the Son whom He sent into the world at the proper time to carry out His plan of salvation. "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

The Lord Jesus Christ communicates with us through His word and also through the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples that the words God the Holy Spirit speaks come directly from Him---God the Son. "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to You." (John 16:13-14) The Holy Spirit speaks to man what the Lord Jesus tells Him to speak to man. This is how we know we can trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He doesn't work independently. He doesn't offer us a mere opinion. He provides us with the truth---the truth He receives from the Lord Jesus Christ.

God the Father is also included in this passage from John 16 and we see the Holy Trinity working together to help us live godly victorious lives, for Jesus says, "All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you." (John 16:15) In the Old Testament we find man's instructions coming directly from God, either by audible voice or by the prophets He called. God the Son doesn't say anything that God the Father wouldn't say, and God the Holy Spirit doesn't say anything God the Son wouldn't say. So it's clear that we must take the Bible as a whole to understand what the Lord wants to say to us. We must look at the things God the Father said in the Old Testament. We must study the words of God the Son in the gospels. We must take to heart the things the Holy Spirit said to the apostles in the New Testament. And we must submit ourselves to what the Holy Spirit says to our own hearts. 

God is still speaking to man. All the way back in the beginning, when He first formed man on the earth, He was speaking to him. He will keep on speaking to man through the end times. And then, when the Lord Jesus Christ sits enthroned on the earth as the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords, we will forever behold His face and hear His voice. This is the glorious future He promises to those who believe on His name: "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:3b-4) 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Numbers. Day 21, Offerings At The Dedication Of The Tabernacle, Part Two

The head of each tribe brings offerings to the tabernacle at its dedication. In yesterday's study we learned that Nahshon, of the tribe of Judah, brought on the first day after the dedication these items: a silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels, a silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, each filled with fine flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; one gold dish weighing ten shekels filled with incense; one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old for a fellowship offering.

The man who is the head of each of the other tribes will bring the same offering. Zuar, the leader of Issachar, brought his offering on the second day. Eliab, the leader of the people of Zebulun, brought his offering on the third day. Elizur, the head of Reuben, brought his offering on the fourth day. On the fifth day Shelumiel, the leader of the people of Simeon, brought his offering. Eliasaph, the leader of Gad, brought his offering on the sixth day. Elishama, the leader of the people of Ephraim, brought his offering on the seventh day. On the eighth day Gamaliel, the leader of Manasseh, brought his offering. Abidan, the leader of the people of Benjamin, brought his offering on the ninth day. On the tenth day Ahiezer, the leader of Dan, brought his offering. Pagiel, the leader of the people of Asher, brought his offering on the eleventh day. Ahira, the leader of Naphtali, brought his offering on the twelfth day. (Numbers 7:18-83) 

You'll notice I chose to summarize verses 18 through 83 since the items the head of each tribe brought are exactly the same. The Lord, however, did not choose to summarize any of this list but instead mentioned the head of every tribe by name and listed each item he brought. I believe the Lord felt it important to specifically name each tribe and the leader of each tribe, even though it meant making a long and repetitive list. The Lord wanted to acknowledge each individual leader, each individual tribe, and each individual offering. These offerings were costly. It probably took some time for the leader of each tribe to gather, from among his people, the materials needed to fashion the silver plates and the silver sprinkling bowls and the gold dishes. Then artisans would have had to melt down the objects of precious metals in order to form a liquid to cast the bowls and plates and dishes---and each of them had to come out at a specific weight. It took some time to gather up the flour and olive oil and incense, also to get together all the animals and shepherd them to the tabernacle. The offerings brought to the tabernacle represent a personal sacrifice all the people have made of their time, their money, their thoughts and prayers, and their livestock. It meant something to the Lord that all these people came together and gave to the tabernacle. He wanted to take time to acknowledge the sacrifice the people of each tribe made.

The Lord notices every sacrifice you and I make in His name. Our sacrifice may be of prayer, or it may be of money, or it may be of time spent ministering in various ways to our brothers and sisters in Christ. But you can be certain that the Lord takes note of the works we do on His behalf and on behalf of our fellow man. "God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them." (Hebrews 6:10) You may have done good works in love, for the sake of the Lord, that no one on earth has seemed to notice or appreciate. But that's okay because God noticed and appreciated it, and the reward you receive from Him will be eternal. The glory of your reward from Him will far outweigh that of any human acclaim you could have received.

Anytime we see the number twelve in the Scriptures it symbolizes the twelve tribes of Israel. Here we find an offering being brought each day, from a tribe of Israel, for twelve consecutive days. (There is no offering from the priestly tribe of Levi, but since Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons Manasseh and Ephraim as his own, there are still twelve tribes represented here. We don't typically find a tribe called "Joseph" but instead his tribe is reckoned through the lines of both Manasseh and Ephraim.) The tribe of Levi was not expected to join the military, as we learned earlier in Numbers, and the tribe of Levi is not expected in Chapter 7 to bring offerings to the dedication of the tabernacle. Also the tribe of Levi will not be given territories in the promised land but will instead be gifted with towns and cities, for the Levites are called to work for the Lord, not become farmers and shepherds. Since Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons, anytime the tribe of Levi is left out of a count, we still find the number twelve.

"These were the offerings of the Israelite leaders for the dedication of the altar when it was anointed: twelve silver plates, twelve silver sprinkling bowls and twelve gold dishes. Each silver plate weighed a hundred and thirty shekels, and each sprinkling bowl seventy shekels. Altogether, the silver dishes weighed two thousand four hundred shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. The twelve gold dishes filled with incense weighed ten shekels each, according to the sanctuary shekel. Altogether, the gold dishes weighed a hundred and twenty shekels. The total number of animals for the burnt offering came to twelve young bulls, twelve rams and twelve male lambs a year old, together with their grain offering. Twelve male goats were used for the sin offering. The total number of animals for the sacrifice of the fellowship offering came to twenty-four oxen, sixty rams, sixty male goats and sixty male lambs a year old. These were the offerings for the dedication of the altar after it was anointed." (Numbers 7:84-88) 

If this seems like a lot of sacrificial offerings for the dedication of the tabernacle, just wait til we study the dedication of Solomon's temple in 1 Kings 8 and 2 Chronicles 5. At that time Israel will have long been established in the promised land and she will be far wealthier than she is now in Numbers 7. In Numbers 7 we find the people giving according to how the Lord has blessed them at this point; in the books of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles the people will give according to how the Lord has blessed them at that point. The Lord never asks us for more than He has enabled us to give. In Numbers 7 the people could not possibly have brought to the tabernacle the amount of offerings and sacrifices that a later generation is able to bring to the temple. The Lord does not expect them to bring more than they are able to bring.

If you've been feeling unnoticed and unappreciated for the love and the good works you've shown toward others, allow today's passage from the book of Numbers to encourage you. The Lord thought it was important to have this long list of offerings in Chapter 7 written down in the Bible, including the name of each tribe and the name of the head of each tribe. Long lists like this are the type we have a tendency to skim over, but the Lord never skims over anything. He will not forget your good works or the way you have labored in love toward Him and toward others. I believe that on the day you stand face to face with Him, everything you've done for the sake of His name will be in His book. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Numbers. Day 20, Offerings At The Dedication Of The Tabernacle, Part One

The events recorded in Numbers 7 appear to be a description of something that has already happened since by this time the tabernacle is believed to be in use. Some Bible scholars say these events would have taken place between Leviticus 10 and Leviticus 11. Others are not certain of the exact chronology but believe everything we'll study in Numbers 7 took place somewhere during the time period covered by Leviticus. 

"When Moses finished setting up the tabernacle, he anointed and consecrated it and all its furnishings. He also anointed and consecrated the altar and all its utensils." (Numbers 7:1) The procedure for consecrating the tabernacle and everything in it was outlined by the Lord in Exodus 40:9-11: "Take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and everything in it; consecrate it and all its furnishings, and it will be holy. Then anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils; consecrate the altar, and it will be most holy. Anoint the basin and its stand and consecrate them." 

After Moses carries out the consecration procedure, offerings are brought to the dedication of the tabernacle. "Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of families who were the tribal leaders in charge of those who were counted, made offerings. They brought as their gifts before the Lord six covered carts and twelve oxen---an ox from each leader and a cart from every two. These they presented before the tabernacle." (Numbers 7:2-3) We learned the names of these heads of families in Numbers 1:5-15. I believe the Lord moved these men's hearts to bring to the tabernacle exactly what was needed for the priests to carry out the work of transporting the tabernacle and its furnishings from place to place. It's always the smart thing to do to pray to the Lord about our giving. He will direct us to give what is needed most and to give where it is needed most. 

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Accept these from them, that they may be used in the work at the tent of meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man's work requires.' So Moses took the carts and oxen and gave them to the Levites. He gave two carts and four oxen to the Gershonites, as their work required, and he gave four carts and eight oxen to the Merarites, as their work required. But Moses did not give any to the Kohathites, because they were to carry on their shoulders the holy things, for which they were responsible." (Numbers 7:4-9) We learned earlier in Numbers that the Gershonites, Merarites, and Kohathites are the three divisions of the Levite clans. 

The Gershonites receive two carts and four oxen because their duty is to transport all the fabrics and leather coverings of the tabernacle. These curtains and coverings were quite large and heavy and it would have been awkward for the men to roll all these items up like rugs and transport them across the wilderness. Also I think there would have been more risk of these items being dropped and becoming dirty or damaged. 

The Merarites receive twice the number of carts and oxen because they have to transport the framing of the tabernacle. These boards and pillars are heavier than the curtains and leather coverings. They take up more space too. More carts are needed for this task than for the cloth and leather items. 

The Kohathites receive no carts. Nothing they are responsible for transporting is to be loaded onto a cart. The large items they are to carry will have poles inserted into the rings along the sides so that men can get on each side of the item and carry it by its poles, similar to the way pallbearers carry a coffin with the exception that it appears the poles are to be held at shoulder height. I'm inserting a photo below to illustrate the way in which the items with poles were to be carried. 

"When the altar was anointed, the elders brought their offerings for its dedication and presented them before the altar. For the Lord had said to Moses, 'Each day one leader is to bring his offering for the dedication of the altar.' The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah." (Numbers 7:10-12) As we discussed back in Numbers 1, Nahshon is named in the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is of the tribe of Judah and is a direct descendant of this man Nahshon---the first to bring an offering to the tabernacle. The offering he brings is from his entire tribe, and it was a very expensive offering as we'll see below.

"His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab." (Numbers 7:13-17) The total precious metal weight of this offering weighs 210 sanctuary shekels. If the sanctuary shekel weighed 12 grams, as is commonly believed, then the precious metals included in the offering from the tribe of Judah weighed 2,520 grams. 

Join us tomorrow as we continue on with our look at the offerings gathered by each tribe to be delivered by their tribe's leader to the dedication of the tabernacle. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Numbers. Day 19, The Priestly Blessing: A Benediction For Those "Set Apart" By Faith

Numbers 6 has been almost entirely about the Nazirite vow but it closes with six verses that contain a benediction that the priests are to pronounce over the congregation of Israel. I believe there is a connection between this priestly blessing and the Nazirite vow, for even though the entire congregation of Israel has not taken this vow, Israel as a nation is "set apart" (the Hebrew "nazir") for the Lord. The Lord said to Israel, "You are to be holy to Me because I, the Lord, am holy, and have set you apart from the nations to be My own." (Leviticus 20:26) Of all the nations in the world at that time, Israel alone worshiped the one true God and this consecrated Israel for His service.

The Lord not only set this believing nation apart from all others, but He sets individual believers apart for Himself for special blessing and sanctification. King David said of himself---an individual believer: "Know that the Lord has set apart His faithful servant for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him." (Psalm 4:6) You and I can say the same thing about ourselves that David said about himself: "The Lord has set me---His faithful servant---apart for Himself. The Lord hears when I call to Him." If we began every session of prayer by saying these words of affirmation to ourselves, I bet we'd pray with far more confidence!

In addition to being consecrated (set apart) to the Lord for our faith, the Lord places a calling on each of our lives. Before we are born, He has plans for us. He knows what He intends to call us to do. He knows whether or not we will answer that call. An example of this is the calling of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah's life was not easy. He prophesied for many years to people who largely ignored and ridiculed him. At one point a plot was hatched to take his very life but the Lord rescued him. Knowing Jeremiah faced so much opposition, the Lord reassured and encouraged him in his work by reminding him that He knew him before the first cell of his body was ever formed in the womb and that long before he existed the Lord had already called him to be a prophet. These are the Lord's words to Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5) The Lord says the same thing to you and me. He says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I knew whether you would put your faith in Me and, knowing that you would, I set you apart for My service. I have placed a calling upon your life." The Lord doesn't place the same calling on each life but make no mistake: if you are a child of God, He has something for you to do.

Now let's take a look at the benediction the priests are to pronounce over the children of Israel---over the people the Lord foreknew would call upon Him in faith, over the people He planned to set apart for Himself because of their faith, over the people upon whom He placed a great calling. This benediction shows how much God loves and wants to bless those who are consecrated to Him by their faith.

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.' So they will put My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.'" (Numbers 6:22-27) The heart's desire of the Lord is to bless people. He can't bless sin but He can bless faithfulness. He intends to "keep" the faithful, and in the original language this word means "to hedge about, to watch over, to save, to preserve, to treasure up". To further illustrate what "keep" means, we can think of it like this: the Lord saves us when we place our faith in Him and the Lord keeps us saved. The saving and the keeping are His work, not ours. The only thing we did was to believe; He does everything else. 

The Lord wants to be gracious toward those who love Him. We naturally want to be gracious toward those who love us, don't we? We can't really help caring about people who care about us. The Lord naturally wants to be gracious to those who love Him. 

The Lord desires to give peace to those who are His. The world around us isn't always peaceful. Our personal lives and professional lives aren't always peaceful. But even when it seems like everything is falling down around us, the Lord is able to speak peace to our hearts. He is not only able, but willing to fill our hearts with peace, and this is why the prophet Isaiah praised the Lord by saying, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You." (Isaiah 26:3) Very little about the life of Isaiah could be said to be peaceful: he preached a message of repentance year after year after year with nobody taking heed to his words. The Lord warned him from the outset that nobody was going to listen but He called Isaiah to plead with the people anyway; the Lord in His righteousness must make the invitation even if no one wants to accept it. Isaiah's calling was a difficult one but he had peace in his heart---the peace only the Lord can give. 

King David was also a man whose life was rarely peaceful, yet he praised the Lord for the blessings He bestows on those who are His: "The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace." (Psalm 29:11) David had peace in his heart even when the world was crashing down around him, even when there were plots against his life and plots to remove him from the throne of Israel. The majority of the people who sought to betray David were people related to him either by blood or by marriage, and this is the type of betrayal that hurts the most, but no matter who or what came against him he found strength and peace in the Lord. 

You and I can have the blessings pronounced in today's benediction. The Lord longs to bestow these blessings on us. Let's be faithful to Him. Let's turn to Him for every need. Everything we need to successfully and victoriously navigate this life and this fallen world is found in Him. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May He turn His face toward you and give you peace. Amen. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Numbers. Day 18, The Nazirite Vow, Part Two

Yesterday we learned that the word "Nazarite" is derived from the Hebrew word "nazir" meaning "set apart". A man or woman could make a vow for a specific period of time in which they would behave differently than someone who had not taken this vow. During that time they were especially consecrated to the Lord and would abstain from any grape products and they could not cut their hair. Next we'll see that they had to refrain from certain mourning rituals during their vow. 

"Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord." (Numbers 6:6-8) No exceptions to this rule could be made, not even if the deceased person was a next of kin. The Nazirite could not have contact with a dead body. 

When the Bible says "the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head" this refers to the uncut hair that is upon their head. The Nazirite must not do anything of a defiling nature while this hair is upon their head. 

Things sometimes happen that are beyond a person's control. A situation might arise in which a person dies suddenly and unexpectedly in the presence of one who is under a Nazarite vow. A man and his father might be working together in the field, for example, and the father might suddenly experience a heart attack and pass away. Or a Nazirite might be in the company of someone else when an accident occurs and the other person dies of their injuries. It probably wasn't all that common to have a person die unexpectedly in one's presence, but it must have happened sometimes, and a situation like this renders the Nazirite ceremonially unclean. "If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite's presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolizes their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day---the day of their cleansing. Then on the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The priest is to offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for the Nazirite because they sinned by being in the presence of a dead body. That same day they are to consecrate their head again. They must rededicate themselves to the Lord for the same period of dedication and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because they became defiled during their period of dedication." (Numbers 6:9-12)

It was not the Nazirite's intention to become unclean but he or she still must end the vow and cut the hair. The appropriate offerings to restore ceremonial cleanliness must be brought. Then the person must start over and fulfill the entire time period of the original vow. This information serves to illustrate how serious was the taking of a Nazirite vow. It was not to be entered into lightly. A person would need to think deeply and soberly about it beforehand and consider whether or not they are mentally and physically and emotionally and spiritually capable of fulfilling every aspect of the vow. Even if they decided they are up to the task, they would still have to take into consideration that a situation might arise which would render them ceremonially unclean. Knowing this, they would have to also consider whether they are capable of starting their vow over if the need arises. If a person decided to make a vow of thirty days, they would have to feel capable of keeping the vow for up to sixty days because if they inadvertently came into contact with the dead at any time during the thirty days they would have to start over, even if the contact occurred on the last day of their original vow. 

"Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. There they are to present their offerings to the Lord: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made with the finest flour and without yeast---thick loaves with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves brushed with olive oil." (Numbers 6:13-15) Keeping a Nazirite vow took effort and willpower. It involved a fair amount of expense, based on the sacrifices and offerings that had to be brought when the vow was completed. The Lord doesn't want anyone casually making promises to Him without thinking them through or counting the cost. The Lord wants people who are all in---who are willing to see things through.

"The priest is to present all these before the Lord and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the Lord, together with its grain offering and drink offering. Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that symbolizes their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering." (Numbers 6:16-18) The hair is burned in the same way as the offering. The Bible doesn't tell us what was done with hair that was shaved off if a person inadvertently became unclean and broke his or her vow. Ancient tradition states it was buried and I think that's a likely answer. I would not expect it to be burned as an offering because it would have been considered unclean.

"After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair that symbolizes their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. The priest shall then wave these before the Lord as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine." (Numbers 6:19-20) The Nazirite is freed from fasting from the fruit of the vine now. He or she may drink wine or consume other products made from grapes.

"This is the law of the Nazirite who vows offerings to the Lord in accordance with their dedication, in addition to whatever else they can afford. They must fulfill the vows they have made, according to the law of the Nazirite." (Numbers 6:21) The Nazirite must bring at least all the items mentioned in this passage; more offerings can be brought voluntarily in addition to those which are required. A person not under a Nazirite vow could supply the required offerings on the Nazirite's behalf, as evidenced by Acts 21:17-16 in which the Apostle Paul pays the expenses of four men who are under a Nazirite vow. He did this as an act of good faith and good will, at the urging of some of the elders of the Christian church at Jerusalem, because unfounded rumors were going around about him claiming he did not respect the law of Moses. Paul did not have to bear the expense of these four men; they were responsible before taking their vow for making sure they could fulfill all its obligations, but Paul bore the expense to prove to the Jewish Christians that he was not going around speaking against anything contained in the book of Numbers or any other book of the Old Testament.

It is believed that a person could step in and fulfill a Nazirite vow on behalf of another person if they were rendered incapable of fulfilling it. One example I found in my research is that a man could fulfill the vow his father made if his father died before completing his Nazirite vow. The son could take on the duties of the vow in honor of the memory of his father.

The main thing we can take away from today's passage in modern times, I think, is that we aren't to make any vows lightly. We don't want to be irresponsible people who promise things to God or to anyone else without considering whether we are capable of following through. Also we aren't to promise anything that is ungodly. Naturally the Lord wouldn't want us keeping a sinful promise, but we shouldn't be agreeing to sinful acts in the first place. As the people of God we must be men and women of our word, and we shouldn't agree to anything that contradicts the Scriptures, but if we have made a wholesome promise and obligated ourselves in some way, the Lord expects us to keep our word. He expects us to keep holy vows we have taken, such as vows we make to Him or the vows we make in our wedding ceremony. King David talked about the kind of person who is close to God, the kind of person whose faith will not be shaken, and he says this type of person "keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind". (Psalm 15:4b) Keeping godly and noble promises won't always be easy. That's why we have to think carefully before putting ourselves under a vow. But God honors the effort and faith it takes to see a vow through.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Numbers. Day 17, The Nazirite Vow, Part One

 Today and tomorrow we'll be looking at something known as a "Nazirite vow". This term is derived from the Hebrew word "nazir" which means "set apart". A person who takes a Nazarite vow will follow certain regulations until the period of time involved in their vow has been completed. 

The word "Nazarite" is not to be confused with the word "Nazarene"---a word often applied to Jesus. Jesus was called a Nazarene simply because His hometown was Nazareth of Galilee. We don't know whether Jesus ever took a Nazarite vow in His lifetime but it's unlikely He was under this type of vow during the years of His public ministry. One of the prohibitions of a Nazirite vow was that the person had to abstain from drinking or eating anything that came from a grapevine. If Jesus had been under a Nazirite vow, He would not have been able to drink wine or grape juice, a thing He evidently did at some of the meals to which He was invited, for He stated that He was being accused of being a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of sinners because He accepted invitations to the homes of anyone who asked Him. (Matthew 11:9, Luke 7:34) He was not a drunkard or a glutton; His enemies just accused Him of that because He sat down to eat with people with whom the other rabbis would not associate. His enemies assumed His host and fellow dinner guests were carousing (by eating too much, by eating non-kosher foods, and by becoming intoxicated) and they either assumed or wanted to make the public think Jesus was carousing too. There's no Biblical proof anything like that was even going on at the dinners to which He was invited and there's certainly no proof He was ever gluttonous or intoxicated. Was He a friend of sinners? Yes, in the sense that He loved them and wanted to show them a better way. He didn't join in with sin; He offered people a way out of sin. 

Also Jesus would not have been able to touch the dead if He was under a Nazirite vow. We'll see in our passage from Chapter 6 that a person under a Nazirite vow could not have contact with a dead body, not even if some of his closest relatives died during the time he was under the vow. Jesus touched several dead bodies during His ministry.

It's possible that Jesus took a Nazirite vow prior to beginning the years of His public ministry, but we know very little about His life before He reached about thirty years of age. You may notice a correlation between the age at which He began His ministry and the age at which men were considered, in the book of Numbers, fit for service at the tabernacle. Jesus was not a Levite and did not work at the temple in Jerusalem (though He taught there frequently) but we've talked about how in ancient times it was believed a man's physical, mental, and spiritual prime was when he was between the ages of thirty and fifty. Jesus began His ministry at the age a man was considered to have accumulated enough wisdom and life experience to be a teacher, an encourager, an elder, and an example to others. Jesus may or may not have ever taken a Nazirite vow prior to beginning His public ministry, but we know of at least three other men of the Bible who were under a Nazirite vow: Samson the judge (Judges 13), John the Baptist (Luke 1), and the Apostle Paul (Acts 18). The Nazirite vow was open to both men and women, as we'll see in our text below, but only one woman of the Bible is mentioned as having taken the vow. Her name is not supplied to us, but she was the wife of a man named Manoah of the tribe of Dan and she was the mother of Samson. Her story can be found in Judges 13.  

Now let's begin our look at what the Nazirite vow entails. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazarite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins." (Numbers 6:1-4) 

The fruit of the grapevine was considered a blessing. This means that to abstain from these products for a time was considered a form of self-denial. We might say a person under a Nazirite vow was "fasting" from the fruit of the vine. When a person undertakes a fast for the purpose of denying the carnal side of human nature in order to focus on the spiritual side of human nature, that person is in a sense "set apart" for a time from those around him. He is "set apart" for the Lord while he is fasting. He may be going to his job every day like usual and fulfilling his normal obligations but while fasting from certain things he feels especially consecrated to the Lord and his thoughts are more fully on the Lord and on the Scriptures and on prayer. 

A person under a Nazirite vow could not cut their hair until the time period of the vow has been fulfilled. "During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long." (Numbers 6:5) It will be apparent to everyone with whom a man associates that he is under a Nazirite vow. The longer the period of the vow, the longer his hair will grow. I assume a woman's vow would be less publicly apparent since women typically wore long hair and since women (at least married women) wore a veil over their hair in public. 

Samson is the most notorious of the Nazirites. His hair had never been cut since the day he was born. He broke his Nazirite vow in a number of other ways because he was a spiritually weak and carnally minded man. He drank alcohol, he had contact with the dead, he had sexual relations with prostitutes, he had no interest in an Israelite wife but instead was attracted only to pagan women with whom he should not have associated. But until he fell for the beautiful and seductive Delilah he at least held on to his hair: the outward sign that he was "set apart" by a Nazirite vow. When Samson revealed to Delilah that the secret to his great strength was that he had never cut his hair, he gave up the last shred of his devotion to the Lord, and in losing his hair to the razor he lost the protection of the God who was his strength. Samson repudiated God not in losing the hair itself but in losing what the hair represented: his loyalty and consecration to the Lord. Samson considered the loss of his relationship with the Lord a small price to pay to gain the affections of the object of his lust. 

Join us tomorrow as we look at further regulations for fulfilling the Nazirite vow and the ritual that is observed when the vow has been fulfilled. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Numbers. Day 16, A Test For Marital Faithfulness, Part Two

Today we continue on with our passage from Numbers 5 in which a suspicious husband is instructed what to do if he thinks his wife has been unfaithful but has no proof of her infidelity. Yesterday we talked about how that, though the ritual the wife undergoes seems unnecessary and unfair to us, the Lord instituted it for her protection in an ancient society in which men held most of the power. The Lord wants to prevent the woman from being repeatedly accused of doing something she didn't do (if indeed she didn't commit adultery) because to be bombarded with unfounded suspicion and accusations is a form of abuse. The Lord also wants to prevent her from being cast out of the home by a husband overcome by insecurity and obsessive thoughts. If the woman is innocent, the Lord is going to prove it, and she is to stop being harassed by her husband's jealous behavior. Some scholars believe if a woman suspects her husband of adultery she can bring him before the priest in the same way a jealous husband could bring a wife before the priest; I am not certain that is the case but as we said yesterday, God will judge an adulterous husband of sin even if that sin is well hidden. Even if there is no religious or legal procedure the wife can make her husband undergo, God knows whether her husband has been unfaithful and He will judge the husband's adultery. We used the example of King David's adultery, and the discipline he endured for it from the hand of God, to back up this belief. 

In addition, the Lord wants to protect the husband. If the husband is incorrect about his wife's unfaithfulness, he must accept the verdict the Lord renders through the ritual outlined in Chapter 5. The man must trust that the Lord knows the truth and that the Lord is telling him that his wife is faithful. This means the man must seek help from the Lord from these intrusive jealous thoughts and stop accusing his wife of things she didn't do. On the other hand, if his wife has actually been unfaithful, he has a right to know. Many a person has just known in their heart that their spouse is being unfaithful  long before they found any proof to back up their suspicions. The ritual of Chapter 5 will give the husband the proof he could not find on his own. At that point I assume he can divorce her for infidelity if he chooses to do so. Leviticus 20:10 states that adultery is a capital crime and that both parties are to be put to death, but Deuteronomy 19:15 states that no person can be convicted unless two or more people witnessed the crime. I don't think the husband can have his adulterous wife (and whoever her partner was) put to death if her guilt is proven in the ritual of Chapter 5. The ritual isn't going to reveal the identity of the man with whom the wife has committed adultery and the two of them weren't caught in the actual act of adultery by two or more witnesses, which is a requirement for carrying out the death penalty. I don't think the husband is allowed to do anything to do his wife other than perhaps divorce her, for the Lord is going to provide the discipline for her unfaithfulness, as we'll see in our text.

In yesterday's passage the husband brought his wife to the priest and explained that he feels his wife is being unfaithful. The woman stood before the priest and the priest put her under oath, much like we put witnesses under oath who give testimony in a courtroom. The priest is holding a clay cup of water that contains dust from the tabernacle floor; the woman is holding a grain offering that her husband was required to bring to the tabernacle. At this point the priest says to her, "'If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that becomes a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband---' here the priest is to put the woman under this curse---'may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when He makes your womb carry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.' Then the woman is to say, 'Amen. So be it.'" (Numbers 5:19-22)

In the book of Numbers we've seen how important genealogy is to the nation of Israel. We've seen a count taken of the men of each tribe (other than the tribe of Levi) who are of age and fit for military service. We've seen a count taken of the men of the tribe of Levi who are of age and fit for tabernacle service. A record of their names and family lines was written down. These censuses and family records are going to be of the utmost importance for the Israelites to prove their lineage and to stake and maintain their claims on the territories the Lord will give them in the promised land. A man with an unfaithful wife could not be sure whether the child she is carrying is his, so if the woman is already pregnant when she undergoes the ritual we're studying, and if the child is the result of adultery, she will lose it. The child of another man will not inherit what belongs to a rightful heir of her husband. It's extremely important, due to the rights of inheritance and the preservation of family lines, for a man of Israel to know for certain that his sons are really his own biological children. 

If the woman is guilty of adultery but is not currently pregnant, it appears as if she will be stricken with some type of ailment of the female organs that renders her infertile. Infertile women in ancient Israel were looked down upon and pitied, as we learned when Abraham's wife Sarah was infertile for so many years of their marriage. To a woman of the era of the book of Numbers, being rendered unable to bear children was a harsh penalty, but in the case of adultery it was considered an appropriate penalty.

The priest writes down on a scroll the words he has just spoken, then he scrapes the words off the scroll into the cup of water in his hand. "The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water." (Numbers 5:23) This is the cup of water the woman will drink---the cup of water that will prove either her innocence or her guilt. The water itself is not harmful. Though bitter in taste, the dust from the tabernacle floor sprinkled into the water and the ink scraped off the scroll aren't poisonous materials. The power of this ritual is in the oath the woman took before God to tell the truth and whether she told the truth about her innocence. "He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water." (Numbers 5:24-26) What happens to the remainder of the grain offering? We were told the grain offering brought for jealousy is a tenth of an ephah of barley flour---about 3.5 pounds. The priest offers only a handful of this flour on the altar and I believe the remainder of the flour belongs to the priest as his payment for officiating over this dispute between husband and wife.

If the woman is guilty, her guilt will soon become apparent. If she is innocent, nothing will happen to her. "If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children." (Numbers 5:27-28)

This is the ritual that was to take place in ancient Israel when a husband felt he had reason to believe he's been betrayed. "This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin." (Numbers 5:29-31) Some scholars think verse 31 means the husband is to be considered blameless for having brought his wife up on charges due to his jealousy, but I'm not sure that's what it means because verse 31 also says "the woman will bear the consequences of her sin". I think verse 31 is referring to cases in which the woman was actually guilty; her husband will be held blameless for the breakup of the marriage. If he chooses to divorce her, which he almost certainly will do due to her faithlessness and her inability to bear children now, his decision to divorce her is justified. No one is to find fault with him for divorcing her or for remarrying. 

We find the same principle upheld in the New Testament in cases where marital infidelity has taken place. The Lord Jesus stood up for the innocent party in a marriage where adultery has been committed, saying that it is lawful for the betrayed spouse to divorce their unfaithful spouse. (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9) Those verses seem to indicate that the innocent party is free to remarry, for Jesus says that if a marriage breaks up for reasons other than infidelity, the man and woman are committing adultery if they go out and get remarried to other people. He does not say anything is wrong with an innocent spouse divorcing their adulterous partner and remarrying. Jesus was standing up for the sanctity of marriage by saying in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 that infidelity is the only lawful reason for divorcing one's spouse. It's important to note that Jesus does not say a husband or wife must divorce their unfaithful spouse; He's just saying that they can because adultery is acceptable grounds for divorce in the eyes of God. If the guilty spouse repents and wants to fix their marriage, and if the innocent party is willing to accept their partner's repentance and work together with them to rebuild their marriage, there is no prohibition against them staying together in faithfulness from here on out. The innocent party has a right to divorce their adulterous partner if they so choose, but husbands and wives are to try to work through any other type of problem, in a sincere and prayerful attitude, with the help of the God who created the institution of marriage.