March 1, 2017 Bible Study — Loving God With All That We Are

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Deuteronomy 5-7.

    When I first read through this there were several things which I thought might take a place of prominence in my blog today. There is the restating of the Ten Commandments (or, as I mentioned when they came up in Exodus, the Ten Sayings). There is the response of the people of Israel to hearing God speak directly to them. There is the command to drive out the people living in the Promised Land and to have no social interaction with them. All of those could be explored in some depth. However, when I went back through to decide how to word what I wanted to say, these verses really spoke to me (chapter 6:4-8).

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.

    We are called to love God with all that we have, all of our heart(spirit), all of our soul, and all of our strength(body). Or to put that in the terms of Freud’s psychological terms, we are to love God with all of our id, all of our ego, and all of our superego. I am going to state this one more way. We are to love God with all of our physical being, with all of our self-identity, and with all of our spiritual nature, our desire to be and do good. That right there strikes me pretty strongly, but the next part cranks that up a notch (or maybe only explains what the previous means).
    We are to repeat God’s instructions again and again, talk about them when we are at home and when we are away, discuss them when we get up in the morning and as we prepare to go to bed. In other words, there should be no time, and no place, where God’s instructions, where what God desires us to do, is not our focus. And to ensure that it is our focus, that it is the center of what we are thinking, we should be talking about it. How does God want us to do our jobs? How does God want us to react to that driver who just cut us off in traffic? What does God want us to say to the rude person in the grocery store (or wherever else we meet them)? I could continue this, but the key question is this, how does what I am doing RIGHT NOW show that I love God with all that I am?

February 28, 2017 Bible Study — If You Seek God, You Will Find Him

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Deuteronomy 3-4.

    In today’s passage Moses concludes his summary of the events which had happened between leaving Mt Sinai and preparing to cross the Jordan River. Having finished recounting the events of their lifetimes, Moses explained to them why it was important to remember those events, and why it was important for those not yet born to learn of those events. These events showed the power of God and the suffering which would be suffered by those who rebelled against Him. This passage reminds us that the events recorded in the Bible are not there to show us how great and holy any of the people listed were. The events were recorded primarily for two purposes: to show us how great and holy God is, and to show us the consequences of obeying, or disobeying, His commands.

    If we carefully follow God’s directions, we will demonstrate to those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear that we have wisdom and understanding. Our God is always near to us so that He can hear us when we pray, and see us when we need Him. Of course, that means He can also hear us when we say sinful things and see us when we do them.
    Which leads us to the part of this passage which offers hope to anyone suffering. No matter how far you have gotten yourself from God, this is for you. No matter how much of a mess you have made of your life. If you seek God with all of your heart and all of your soul, you will find Him. The fact of the matter is that God is near to you at this very moment, even if you have cursed Him and denied Him. All you have to do is start looking for Him and you will see that He is there waiting for you. It may take time, but everyone who truly seeks God will find Him. Even those who insist in looking in all of the wrong places will inevitably find God.

February 27, 2017 Bible Study — Moses Summarizes the Time in the Wilderness

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Deuteronomy 1-2.

    After the Israelites defeated King Sihon and were preparing to enter the Promised Land, Moses recapped their history for the last 40 years. Most of those listening would have been too young to remember what had happened when they first approached the Promised Land. They would however have been familiar with what Moses talked about in chapter 2. Overall, this passage was a reminder of the consequences of not following God’s direction, and of God’s power to overcome opposition when we do follow His direction.

February 26, 2017 Bible Study — Ancient Roots of Jewish Claims to Israel

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Numbers 34-36.

    The passage begins by laying out the boundaries of the territory to be divided up among the people of Israel. Even scholars skeptical of the authorship claims made in the Bible and by tradition date the Book of Numbers to the 6th Century BC. In addition, the earliest complete copy of the Book of Numbers still in existence dates to the 4th Century AD. Which means that, despite the claims of many Muslims, the claim of the Jewish people to the land of Palestine predates the existence of Islam (that does not necessarily make their claim binding, that is another argument entirely). From time to time, Muslims attempt to deny that Jews have any historical connection to the land of Palestine. Such claims can be dismissed out of hand based on this passage, and numerous other passages which predate the founding of Islam. The other claim made to deny Jewish claims to the land of Palestine is that modern Jews are not related to the Jews of Biblical times. This claim is difficult to prove untrue, but I am satisfied that there is no evidence proving it true (and much evidence which supports the connection of modern Jews to Biblical Jews). I want to finish by making clear that the Biblical texts do not provide Jews with a legal claim to the land of Palestine (that is provided by the British Mandate for Palestine).

February 25, 2017 Bible Study — Jumping To Conclusions and Correcting Misunderstandings

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Numbers 32-33.

    The members of the tribes of Reuben and Gad wished to settle in the land the people of Israel had conquered east of the Jordan River. Moses assumed that their reason was because they were afraid to face the people then living in the land of Canaan in battle. However, they made clear that they were perfectly willing to go to battle in the land of Canaan along with the other Israelites, but that they did not wish to migrate across the river. Moses was guilty of jumping to conclusions. It is worth noting that the Reubenites and the Gadites did not get offended when Moses did this. They merely corrected Moses’ misunderstanding. They did not even get offended by Moses repeating that they would be in the wrong if they did not help their fellow Israelites conquer the land of Canaan.
    There are important lessons here for us for dealing with situations where misunderstandings occur. When our motives are misunderstood, we should calmly explain what our true thinking is. On the other side, when someone comes to us telling us that we have misunderstood them, we should take them at their word. In addition, both sides were willing to restate what is was to which they had agreed. Finally, Moses explained the agreement he had reached with the two tribes to a third party in front of them. This final step ensures that the everyone is on the same page about what has been agreed.

February 24, 2013 Bible Study — Think Carefully Before Committing Yourself

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Numbers 30-31.

    I really struggled with what to make of this passage on taking an oath. Here it says that if a man takes an oath, he is stuck with it, but if a woman does so, she can get either her father or her husband to nullify it for her (as long as they were not aware of it before she wants out). That is an oversimplification and turns the way we would normally read this passage on its head, but it has some truth to it. The people for whom this passage was originally written would have read this as a woman not having the right to commit herself to an oath against her father’s, or her husband’s, wishes. They would have been correct.
    Nevertheless, the reading of it I started the previous paragraph with teaches us an important lesson. None of us, man or woman, should commit themselves to a binding course of action without first having someone else (father/mother, husband/wife, trusted friend) go over with us our reasons for, and the consequences of, that decision. This passage gave women an out, at the expense of them having the authority to make decisions for themselves. That is another lesson for us. We can only gain protection from the consequences of our actions by yielding up some of our freedom. Usually, the amount of freedom we give up is greater than the protection we receive.

February 23, 2017 Bible Study — Strengths and Weaknesses In Leadership

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Numbers 27-29.

    The first part of this passage lays out what happens to a man’s property if he dies with no sons. It is a little more complicated than that because the inheritance being referred to was land which was to be given to the man, and his descendants, from land which the people of Israel did not yet control. The situation from a case brought before Moses by the daughters of a man who had no sons. The passage illustrates the importance of having a clear system for how our property and interests will be divided up when we are no longer around to manage them.

    When God declared to Moses that he would soon die, Moses asked God to appoint someone to take his place. Now Moses had a candidate in mind for this role because Joshua had been his assistant since they left Egypt. This does not indicate that Moses’ request of God was perfunctory. God did indeed choose Joshua for the leadership role. However, God did not give Joshua the same authority which He had given Moses. When Moses needed guidance from God, he went directly to God and asked. Joshua, on the other hand, was instructed to go to Eleazar the priest when he needed guidance from God. Eleazar would then consult with God using the Urim (an object which is never clearly described).
    This suggests that Joshua was someone who had a firm grasp of tactics and strategy, and a gift for getting people to follow his lead, but perhaps a limited ability to discern what was the right thing to do in circumstances where there was grey areas. However, it also suggests that while Eleazar was apparently gifted at discerning God’s will in cases where the situation required a judgment call he was limited in his ability to lead people and make tactical and strategic decisions. This division of duties between Joshua and Eleazar is a lesson to those who are in leadership. It is important to know your own strengths and weaknesses, and those of the people around you. Share power with those whose gifts compliment your own. Seek out those who have strengths which compensate for your weaknesses.

February 22, 2017 Bible Study — Sexual Immorality Leads to Idolatry

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Numbers 25-26.

    Shortly after the incident with Balak and Balaam the Israelites camped near Shittim (or The Acacia Grove). While they were camped there some of the Israelite men began having sexual relations with Moabite women. These men began attending sacrifices and feasts honoring the Moabite gods. I am going to guess from the context that to some degree they invited their friends along. It got to the point where men were not even hiding their behavior. It got to the point where one man brazenly took such a woman into his tent in front of the leadership of the entire people who were gathered to decide what to do about it.
    The man referenced in this story who was killed by Phinehas attitude was, “It’s my life. I will live it the way I want. There is nothing you can do to stop me.” Phinehas proved him wrong. I am not advocating that we imitate Phinehas, but as God’s people we need to take a stand against sexual immorality, especially when such immorality leads to idolatry. As I am writing this, I know the point I am trying to make, but I keep wanting to rewrite what I have written because there is so much which needs to be clarified. We need to take a strong stand against sexual immorality (and other sins) among believers and yet we need to deal lovingly with those struggling to overcome sin. A clear point here is that the man Phinehas killed was not only not struggling to overcome sin, he was flaunting his sin in the face of the elders (I want to repeat that I do not think that we are called to kill sinners, not even those who flaunt their sin).

February 21, 2017 Bible Study — What Did Balaam Do Wrong?

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Numbers 22-24.

    It is easy to understand why Balak was overwhelmed by the numbers of the people of Israel when they showed up on the doorstep of the land he controlled. The largest city in the world at the time had about 100,000 people and here was an encampment of over 1,000,000 people, or 10x the size of the largest city in the world at the time. Having seen what they did to the other peoples they had encountered, Balak knew that he could not take them on militarily and was sure that they would strip the land bare if he allowed them to pass through his territory.

    Reading this passage it is easy to miss what Balaam did wrong. When God told him to send Balak’s messengers away the first time, he did so. However, the first sign of what he did wrong is how he responded to the second set of messengers. He told them that he could not do anything beyond the command of God, but he followed that up by telling them to spend the night while he tried to convince God to let him do something which would lead them to pay him (I will admit to doing a little reading between the lines here). The suspicion that Balaam was looking for a loophole is confirmed by the angel from whom he was only saved by the actions of his donkey the following day. Even after that confrontation and warning, Balaam still tried three times to find a way to curse the people of Israel. The third time he even tried to bypass going to God, since he knew that the message God gave him directly was not going to have any wiggle room he could turn into at least the appearance of a curse so that Balak would pay him. How often do we try to find wiggle room to do what we know is wrong?

February 20, 2017 Bible Study –Different Actions Provoke Different Reactions

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Numbers 19-21.

    Every time I read the description of how the Israelites were to make and use the water of purification I wonder whether the rules were symbolic in order to remind the people of the importance of maintaining purity before God, or if they were practical as a means of preventing the spread of disease, or perhaps some of both. Reading the description of the process of creating the water of purification it strikes me that it might be mildly soapy water or lye water (depending on how much wood ash was part of the ashes from burning the heifer), or it might be just slightly ashy water.

    I am always struck by the difference between Edom and the nations which Israel conquered in this passage. When the Israelites requested permission to cross through territory controlled by Edom, the king of Edom told them “No” and mobilized his army, but that was all. On the other hand, the Canaanite king sent troops, attacked them, and took some of them prisoner when they passed near to territory he controlled. King Sihon of the Amorites refused the Israelite request, but, unlike the king of Edom, he accompanied his refusal with an attack. In the former case, the Israelites turned aside and went a different direction. In the latter cases the Israelites completely destroyed the nations which attacked them.