February 14, 2018 Bible Study — Rituals and Vows

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Numbers 5-6.

    There are two interesting rituals in today’s passage. The first discusses what a husband should do if he thinks his wife is unfaithful, but has no proof. This ritual bothers me because it places a burden on a wife to prove her faithfulness to a jealous husband but no similar burden is placed upon a husband of a jealous wife. However, that is a result of a culture that was very different from ours today. While I am about to make a partial defense of this ritual that does not mean that I think we should practice it today. This ritual eliminates a husband being able to excuse his abuse of his wife on the basis of claiming it was because she cheated on him. If he thinks his wife has cheated on him this passage gives him the only course of action open to him; take his wife to the priest and make an offering for God to pass judgment. The other aspect of this is that I firmly believe that God has the power and will to make it so that a woman who was guilty of no sin would suffer no consequence from undergoing this ritual.

    The second interesting ritual in today’s passage is the vow of a Nazirite. The passage does not make it clear why someone would take a vow of a Nazirite. Part of the reason would be to declare oneself dedicated to service to God. However, every time I read this passage it seems to me that there is more to such a vow than that. It seems to me that one would take a vow of a Nazirite as a way to emphasize the seriousness to which one held some ministry or activity that one was going to do in service to the Lord. As an example of what I mean by this: one might take a vow to read through the Bible in a certain amount of time (say a year). To add a bit more dedication and focus to that vow, one might make it as a vow of a Nazirite and follow the rules laid out in this passage. The vow of a Nazirite contains a private and a public element. On the private side, one would avoid wine and all of the products of the grape vine. The discipline of doing this would help the individual to focus on God. On the private side, one would not cut one’s hair for the duration of the vow. This would signal to those around them that they were dedicating themselves to serving God.

February 13, 2018 Bible Study — Dedicating the Levites

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

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

    Yesterday, I suggested two reasons why the Levites were not included in the census of those available to go to war for the Israelite nation. The first was that if they went to war they would be ceremonially unclean for handling the Tabernacle. The second was that they were reserved for the defense of the Tabernacle and its fittings. Today’s passage seems to confirm that my guess that it was the first rather than the second. The reason I reach that conclusion is that today’s passage contains a census of the males of the tribe of Levi. Unlike the census of those able to go to war, this census was of all males one month and older. These were dedicated to the Lord in place of the first born sons of the rest of the people of Israel.

February 12, 2018 Bible Study — Census of the Fighting Men of Israel

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

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

    One year after leaving Egypt, Moses conducted a census of those considered able to go to war. I have read this passage many times, but have never thought about the fact that the age when someone was considered ready to go to war. They only counted men who were twenty years or older. Which basically tells us that they considered 20 years old to be the onset of adulthood. In order to conduct this census, Moses received the assistance of the leader of each of the tribes. The passage seems to imply that this census was conducted in a single day, although I am not sure if that is intentional. As a result of this census we learn that, one year after leaving Egypt, the fighting force of the Children of Israel was over 600,000 men. This count did not include the descendants of Levi. There are two possible readings of why the Levites were left out of the census. The first is that they were not part of the army of the Children of Israel because it was their duty to care for the Tabernacle and taking part in war would make them ritually unclean. The second is that they were not part of the army of the Children of Israel because their duty during battle was to defend the Tabernacle and its furnishings. I suspect that it was the former, but reading this today makes me wonder.

February 11, 2018 Bible Study — Blessings and Punishments

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 26-27.

    Today’s passage begins with the blessings for obedience to God’s commands followed by the punishments for disobedience. The blessings are the results of obeying God’s commands. They are not rewards God bestows on us for being good (or, at least, not primarily), they are just how things work. The same is more or less true of the punishments. I do believe that God will sometimes accelerate the minor results for disobedience in order to give us the opportunity to correct our behavior before something truly terrible results. The closer a society adheres to God’s commands, the more prosperous and secure its people will be. The further they are from God’s commands, the more impoverished and ravaged the people will be. There have been a few exceptions throughout history, but they have all been short-lived and served God’s purposes in other ways.

February 10, 2018 Bible Study — The Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee

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 24-25.

    Today’s passage contains a commandment for something called the Sabbath Year, which is the basis for the modern sabbaticals that many academics and others take. While the idea for a sabbatical (usually year) is based on this passage, it is not really connected with the idea presented here. The Sabbath Year presented here is to allow the land to lay fallow every seventh year. The purpose it serves is similar to what modern agriculture accomplishes with crop rotation. The Sabbath Year allows for the restoration of nutrients in the soil which are used by the crops grown. Modern agriculture is much more intense than the agriculture practiced by the ancient Israelites so that a Sabbath Year would be insufficient to renew the nutrients.

    Every seventh year, the people of Israel were to practice a Sabbath Year. And every seventh Sabbath Year they were to practice a Year of Jubilee. I have my questions about how a Year of Jubilee as described in this passage could be made to work, but the concept has merit. The Year of Jubilee was designed to prevent the poor from becoming a permanent underclass. Every 49 years the economic deck got reshuffled and the “cards” redistributed equitably. Since real estate was the primary basis of wealth in ancient Israel, the Year of Jubilee prevented a limited number of people from locking everyone else out by gaining control of all of the land over time. The result of the Year of Jubilee would have been that my children would not have been stuck in a poor economic position just because I had made some bad decisions. The Year of Jubilee could be seen as intended to minimize income inequality. However, its main purposes appears to be to keep the poor from being stuck as poor, rather than to limit the wealth of the rich.

February 9, 2018 Bible Study — Acceptable, and Unacceptable, Offerings To the Lord

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 22-23.

    Today’s passage has instructions about things which would disqualify one of Aaron’s descendants from serving as a priest and instructions concerning the yearly festivals of worship the people of Israel were to conduct. In between, there is a discussion of what was acceptable and unacceptable as an offering to the Lord. They were not to attempt to offer an animal with any defects as a burnt offering or as a peace offering to fulfill a vow. If the animal was for a purely voluntary peace offering it could be one that had one or more legs that were too long, but that was otherwise without defect.

    These instructions should inform us when we make gifts to God today. When we give to God we should give of our best, not our cast offs or half-hearted efforts. It is OK to give our used clothing, or furniture which we will no longer use to those in need, or to charitable organizations which can make use of them (even if that use is to sell them to someone else), but let us not ever think that doing so is making an offering to God. If we are giving something as an offering to God, it should be the best we can afford (note “best” is a subjective term, but “most expensive” should never be confused with “best”). In a way, the same thing applies to monetary offerings. “What I can spare” is not an offering. There is a time and place for giving “what I can spare” to God, but it is not to my credit when I do so. Our offerings to God should be out of the joy of having received His blessings. I do this less than I should…which is how I know that giving “what I can spare” is not a bad thing. When I have felt financially strapped enough that I only gave what I could spare after I have paid my bills has led me to realize that I need better financial discipline so that I can give to the Lord first and pay my bills and expenses with what is left over.

February 8, 2018 Bible Study — Commands For Us, Not Someone Else, To Follow

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 19-21.

    Today’s passage begins with a series of commands about personal behavior, most of them form the basis for having a civil society. Some of them are obvious:

  • “Do not steal.”
  • “Do not deceive or cheat one another.”
  • Do not rob or defraud your neighbor.”

But some of them we need to take special note:

  • “Do not favor the poor, or be partial to the rich, in legal matters”
  • Notice that it is not enough not to be partial to the rich, we also must not favor the poor over the rich.

  • “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s life is threatened.”
  • “Do not nurse hatred in your heart.”
  • “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.”

These last two I dropped off the qualifiers which the passage contained based on what Jesus had to say about who is our family and who is our neighbor. There are a couple of these which I do not quite understand: “Do not mate two different kinds of animals,” “Do not plant two different kinds of seed.” However, since I am not a farmer, I do not need to figure out how either of those applies. The key to all of these is that they apply to ourselves, not someone else. The command is not “Do not let your neighbor steal.” it is “Do not steal.”

February 7, 2018 Bible Study — Forbidden Sexual Practices, Don’t Sacrifice Your Children To Idols, More Forbidden Sexual Practices

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 16-18.

    Today’s passage discusses the sacrifices and rituals which Aaron was required to follow before and during entering into God’s presence. In the New Testament this is compared and contrasted with Christ’s death on the Cross. Certainly as a Christian, these sacrifices and rituals can be seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself for our sins. One of the contrasts which struck me was that only Aaron was allowed to be in the Tabernacle while he was conducting these sacrifices and rituals. In other words, only Aaron could be in the Tabernacle while God was present there, only Aaron could come into the presence of God. On the other hand, Christ’s sacrifice means that everyone may come into God’s presence.

    The other set of laws which I want to write about is the ones about what constitutes improper sexual relations. My thoughts about this are heavily influenced by an article I read many years ago which suggested that the clear limits on the acceptable expression of sexual desire laid out here provided a framework for keeping people from being distracted by seeking sexual gratification. By creating such a framework, energy which might otherwise have been directed into seeking gratification of sexual desire went into more productive activities. While there is some truth to that, I think a more important aspect of the framework for sexual gratification laid out here is the impact it had on social relationships. Forbidden sexual relations include ones we consider taboos in almost all societies: incest, same sex relations, bestiality, etc.. However, this passage contains much more extensive prohibitions than that. As such, these rules help promote healthy social interaction between people by taking potential sexual interaction off of the table between those who follow these rules. I find one thing interesting. In the middle of rules forbidding various kinds of sexual behavior there is a command to not kill our children as a sacrifice. It seems to me that this placement speaks quite clearly to the issue of abortion.

February 6, 2018 Bible Study — More Public Health Regulations

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 14-15.

    I have read through today’s passage several times looking for what I want to write about it. In the end nothing really struck me. However, I found myself fascinated by its understanding of how to deal with public health threats. I noted how they used various time delays to ensure that symptoms did not recur for someone who was apparently healed. In yesterday’s passage there were instructions on how to deal with mildew on various items in a nomadic camp. Today’s passage explains how to apply similar rules to permanent structures. The final thing which I found interesting was the understanding of the health dangers of exposure to someone else’s bodily fluids expressed in this passage.

February 5, 2018 Bible Study — Controlling the Spread of Disease

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 13.

    The book of Leviticus is one of the reasons I needed to start this blog in order to discipline myself to read through the Bible on a regular basis. I have really been struggling to get something out of the passages for the last several days, let alone something to write for this blog. Today is no exception. Today’s passage contains directions on inspecting people and items in order to maintain public health of the community of the Children of Israel. While we know from modern medical science that there are many communicable diseases which would not be caught by the procedures outlined in this passage, the health issues described here do indeed represent threats to the health of the entire community. The procedures outlined in this passage would indeed limit the spread of at least some communicable diseases.

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