February 1, 2018 Bible Study — Basic Rules on Sacrifices

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Leviticus 1-4.

    Today’s passage contains the basic instructions the Israelites were to follow to make offerings to God. I find it noteworthy that in all of the animal sacrifices the priests were instructed to splash the blood of the animal against the side(s) of the altar. In addition, all of the fat was to be burned on the altar, even from those sacrifices of which parts were to be eaten. Specifically, the Israelites were instructed never to eat either the blood or the fat of an animal. Then we get to the instructions concerning the grain offerings which were never to contain yeast or honey. I was more or less aware of the prohibition on yeast and its significance in Jewish dietary law. I remember previously reading about honey being excluded from the grain offerings, but it is not something I ever noticed before. In particular, yeast and honey were excluded from offerings of which portions were going to be burned on the altar. In all of that I would be hard pressed to explain why this is significant, but I am sure that it is.

January 31, 2018 Bible Study — Setting Up the Tabernacle For the First Time

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 39-40.

    Today’s passage describes the making of the priestly garments. In describing how they made the garments according to the directions which God had given Moses earlier in this book this passage provides us with a little more detail about how those garments would have looked. I find it interesting how the subtle differences between the instructions on how it should be made and how it was made following those instructions provide additional insight into how it would have actually looked. Those differences and details suggest that this was recorded by someone who actually witnessed the events in question rather than by someone who heard informal stories about them.

    The passage tells us that on the first day of the year following the completion of constructing the pieces for the Tabernacle, Moses set it up for the first time. As I read the passage, I pictured Moses doing this all by himself while the rest of the Israelites looked on. I suspect that Moses had helpers to do this, setting up the tent of the Tabernacle would have been hard enough, but I think the gold cover for the Ark of the Covenant would have been rather heavy for one man to pick up and put in place. However, the image of him, an 80 something year old man, setting up the poles, draping the various curtains and then connecting them all by himself amuses me. I can imagine him rushing around to get it all done before the end of the day, biting his tongue to avoid cursing when the poles fell down for the third time while he as trying to get the curtains spread across them so he could make the attachments, waving off every one who offered to help because this was going to be where God was and no one else could be sanctified to touch it until it was set up. As I said, I don’t think that is how it happened, but I find the image amusing.

January 30, 2018 Bible Study — Construction of The Ark Of the Covenant

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 36-38.

    This passage describes the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. At the beginning of the passage it lists two craftsmen as being the primary artisans who made these items with a reference to their being other, anonymous (at least to us) craftsmen also chosen to help. However, as we continue in the passage only one of the two is mentioned by name. That one is Bezalel. This suggests to me that Bezalel was the master craftsman while Oholiab coordinated the other workers on the project. The other point I want to take note of is the fact that the Children of Israel gave so much towards building the Tabernacle and its furnishings that the craftsmen had to ask Moses to stop them from bringing any more.

January 29, 2018 Bible Study — Do Not Make Treaties With Pagans

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 33-35.

    I read an article about a Christian congregation in Minneapolis holding an interfaith service this week during the run up to the Super Bowl. Then I read today’s passage and God’s command that the Israelites not make a treaty with any of the people living in the land to which they were traveling. Further God warns against taking the daughters of those people as wives for their sons. However, it is important to note the wording of that prohibition, “you will accept their daughters, who sacrifice to other gods, as wives for your sons.” Carefully reading this indicates that the prohibition is against marrying those who worship other gods. If someone truly converts to Christianity, the beliefs of their parents are irrelevant. In addition, God warns against taking part in the sacrificial meals of pagans. All in all, a reading of God’s instructions concerning the Israelites making treaties with the people currently living in the Promised Land shows us the danger of “inter faith dialogue” and joining forces with organizations of other faiths to accomplish a mission. If we do so, we may allow them to draw us into advancing their priorities rather than God’s priorities.

January 28, 2018 Bible Study — Not a Bull, But a Calf

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 30-32.

    This passage describes the census tax which later became the Temple tax which Jesus had Peter pay for both of them by taking money from the mouth of a fish. I also find it interesting that when God gives Moses the recipe for the Tabernacle incense and the priestly anointing oil, He gives strict instructions that no one shall make incense or oil similar to those for any other usage or purpose. The importance of this comes from the subliminal impact which scents have on our thoughts and emotions. Things we smell can have a subtle effect on how we think and feel. God knew that if people experienced the scents of the anointing oil or the incense in other settings it would have one of two results. The first would be to cause people to feel worshipful towards whatever was the focus of activity in that other setting, which would be idolatry. The second would be to cause people to associate those scents with something other than worshiping God so that when they smelled them during worship they would be reminded of that other thing and be distracted from worshiping God.

    Initially, when Moses went up on to the mountain the people felt that it was a good thing to stop where they were and begin getting their lives organized (reading between the lines on this). However, after a while they began to feel like it was time to begin moving forward again but Moses had not yet returned. So, they went to Aaron for guidance. Aaron had no idea what they should do next, nor did he believe that he had the ability to keep the people unified. So, Aaron did what many leaders throughout history have done, he created a visual representation of God. I find it interesting that this visual representation was a calf. What is interesting is that later, when Jeroboam led the Northern Tribes to separate from the Southern Tribes, he built two golden calves at the place of worship he intended to replace Jerusalem. The other interesting thing is that it was a calf, not a bull. Many ancient peoples worshiped a bull god and/or a cow god, but when the Israelites made an idol it was a calf. I am unsure of the significance of this, but I am sure that it tells us something about their understanding of God.

January 27, 2018 Bible Study — Ordination of, and Clothing for, the Priests

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 28-29.

    I really struggle with what lessons we can take from the descriptions of the clothing God instructed to be made for Aaron and his sons. Perhaps the biggest lesson is the complexity of the ordination process for priests and how Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished the same purpose. What I found interesting is that the directions were very explicit for the outermost garments, and progressively less explicit as you move inward so that all that is said about the innermost undergarments is that they should cover from their hips to their thighs. In addition, this passage contains detailed instructions regarding the ordination ceremony, which would encompass multiple sacrifices performed over seven days of time.

January 26, 2018 Bible Study

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 25-27.

    When I read the initial instructions God gave the people of Israel in the passage from a couple of days ago, I wondered how it would reconcile with the design given for the altar that was to go in the Tabernacle. At the time I thought I would wait until I got to the passage describing the altar for the Tabernacle. In the earlier command, God told them to make altars to Him out of earth, and if they used stones to only use uncut stones. Those instructions also contained a reiteration that they were not to make idols from silver or gold which might be worshiped in place of God. I took those instructions to mean that they should not build fancy, highly decorated altars. My recollection was that the altar design given along with the Tabernacle design was highly decorated. It turns out that my recollection was mistaken. The altar design given in today’s passage is a relatively simple, portable altar. The structural integrity of the altar is provided by wood. The wood is protected from the fire of the offerings by being encased in bronze. Overall, I realized that the design given for the Tabernacle was not as fancy and intricately decorated as my recollection of these instructions from previous readings.

January 25, 2018 Bible Study — You Cannot Have Justice Without Honesty

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

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

    There are several verses in today’s passage which contain commands which are relevant in discussions going on in our society today. Twice in this passage God commands the Israelites not to oppress the foreigners living among them. These commands, and others similar to them, are often used by those who argue in favor of the U.S. not enforcing its immigration laws. I do not want to get into politics in my blog. However, I want to point out that there are people among those arguing for not enforcing immigration laws who use those laws to allow them to exploit people in this country illegally. This command tells us that we should be speaking out against those who are exploiting and oppressing those people who are in this country in violation of the law. I believe that it is not wrong for a country to establish laws concerning who is allowed to enter that country. However, I also believe that I should do my best to provide aid to those in need, even if they are in the country in violation of the country’s laws (what form that aid takes must be determined on a case by case basis).

    The other call to justice I want to focus on here is a call for honesty. There are a series of important elements to this. First, God commands us not to spread false rumors. I do not believe that not knowing that the rumors are false gets you off the hook for this one. If the rumors you know reflect negatively on the character of someone, check their truthfulness before sharing them. God has more commands pointing up the connection between honesty and justice. If you lie on the witness stand (and I believe this applies to any place where you are giving witness, not just the courtroom), at best, you are cooperating with evil people. Further God commands us not to follow the crowd in doing wrong and to not let the sentiment of the crowd sway us to make false statements about people. Stick to what you know to be right and true, even if everyone else is convinced (or acting as if they are convinced) of the opposite. This does not mean that you do not take a moment to make sure that you are not the one who is in the wrong. It does mean stay out of witch hunts and wait until you know the facts when the crowd is howling for blood. The final command in this passage on the theme of honesty and justice is to refuse all bribes, even ones for making the decision you had already decided to make. Once you have accepted the bribe, you will be less likely to notice evidence that shows your original conclusion to be incorrect. In addition, bribes, even those which are for the just decision, will bring into question whether justice is truly being served.

January 24, 2018 Bible Study — Entering Into The Presence Of God

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

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

    When the people of Israel came to Mt Sinai, God came down onto the mountain and spoke with them. However, after God gave them what we call the Ten Commandments, which Jews typically refer to more accurately as the Ten Statements, the people asked that God speak to them through Moses rather than directly. This is a very human tendency. We saw this same tendency when Adam and Eve hid from God after eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We see this tendency in the creation of a division between clergy and laity in the Christian Church. We constantly seek to create distance between ourselves and God so as to avoid recognizing our sinfulness.

    Today, I want to spend some time focusing on the last of the Commandments. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s…” This is an important commandment because one of the things I hear people say today is “It isn’t fair that he/she has so much.” Oh, they often go on to say, “…and this other person has so little.” But we all know their real concern is what the first person has, not what the second person lacks. We should seek to help those in need, especially when we have in excess of our needs. Our concern should be with those in need, not in how much others have.

    Finally, I want to take note of God’s instructions concerning building an altar. We tend not to pay much attention to that since we do not, as a general rule, build altars anymore. However, it is noteworthy that these instructions are the first ones God gives after the Ten Commandments. God instructs Moses that any altars they build are to be rather utilitarian. There is to be nothing fancy about them, they are not even supposed to be raised up. All of this is to be sure that we are not worshiping the altar in place of God. The lesson here is that our places of worship must be designed so as to not encourage us to put more importance into them than into God. We do not make a place holy by building a certain building there, or having certain objects there. It is not even the geography of the place which makes it holy. No, a place becomes holy when we enter into God’s presence there and we should strive to have nothing which might lead anyone to think otherwise.

January 23, 2018 Bible Study– Lack of Gratitude and a Lesson On Leadership

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 16-18.

    At the beginning of today’s passage the people of Israel demonstrated an all too human failing. Rather than ask God for food and then later water, they complained about the lack. Rather than trust that the God who had miraculously brought them out of Egypt could provide their needs, they complained and regretted leaving Egypt in the first place. We all have a tendency to do such things, to have a “What have you done for me lately?” attitude. The people of Israel stopped being grateful for what God had done for them and began to resent Him for the troubles they now faced. Let us strive not to fall into the same error.

    I would ordinarily skip over this because I have talked about it just about every year when I have read this passage. However, I think the advice which Moses’ father-in-law gave him is important enough to be emphasized. When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, arrived to visit, he witnessed Moses spend the entire day, from sunup to sundown, settling the disputes among the people. Jethro told Moses that he could not keep on doing this. He told him that he needed to delegate some of his authority to other people. Every leader of a group of more than five people needs to follow this advice to delegate some of the tasks of running the group to others. Even if the group is less than five, delegating some of the tasks is a good idea.