Saturday, February 27, 2010


Numbers 1-3

In the first part of Numbers 15, the LORD conveys to the Israelites, through Moses, information about some further detail on some offerings, including the kind of grain and drink offerings to give with various animal sacrifices. He tells them that the rules apply both to native born and aliens, "a lasting ordinance for the generations to come." And he told them again that the offerings to the LORD should come "from the first of your ground meal." These rules are followed with more rules for offerings for unintentional sins. "But anyone who sins defiantly...must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD's word and broken his commands...his guilt remains on him." The chapter ends with instructions from the LORD that they are to wear tassels on the corners of their garments, to remind them of the commands of the LORD.

Between the offering commands and the instructions to wear tassels, however, there's a story of a man "found gathering wood on the Sabbath day." They put him in to custody, unsure of what to do with him. The LORD said to Moses that the whole camp should stone him, so they put him to death.

Chapter 16 relates the story of a revolt against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, led by three Israelites named Korah, who was himself a Levite, and Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuben. They denounced the way in which Moses and Aaron appeared to claim more holiness than the rest of the community. Dathan and Abiram also denounced Moses for having brought them out of a land of mil and honey "to kill us in the desert." Moses "fell facedown," and told them to put fire and incense in their censers the next morning, and that the man the LORD chooses "will be the one that is holy."

They gathered at the Tent of Meeting, and the LORD wanted to separate Moses and Aaron and then kill the whole assembly, but Moses and Aaron prayed that he not. So he told them to tell the assembly to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Moses told everyone that they would know that the LORD had not sent him "if these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men" but if the ground swallowed them, "then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt." The ground split open and Korah, Dathan and Abiram, with their tents and households and possessions, were "swallowed up" and the the ground closed over them. Then the people fled, fearing that they would also be swallowed up, and the fire of the LORD consumed the 250 men who had joined the leaders and were offering incense. The LORD told Moses to have Aaron's son Eleazar take the censers out of the remains and hammer them into sheets to overlay the altar. "This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the LORD." The next day, the grumbling continued, now against Moses and Aaron for having "killed the LORD's people." So the LORD sent a plague among them. Aaron offered incense and made atonement for them, and stopped the plague, but 14,700 people had died.

In chapter 17, the LORD told Moses to gather twelve staffs from the Israelites, one from each of the tribes, including Aaron's, and to put them in the Tent of Meeting, where he would make one of them bud. So they did this, and the next day, entering the Tent of Meeting, saw that Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, "had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds." So they kept Aaron's staff in the Tent of Meeting, but the people said to Moses, "We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the LORD will die. Are we all going to die?"

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • There will always be a challenge to leadership. In the case of the Israelites, the younger generation, led by three men, revolted against the leadership of Moses and the elders.
  • There are passages in the Bible that make it very hard to worship GOD. This section of Numbers is one of them, as GOD comes across as petty, vengeful and almost sadistic. Does gathering wood on the Sabbath really warrant public stoning? Even if a man challenges the leadership of Moses, does that justify his wife and children and servants being buried alive? The responses to the provocation seem all out of proportion to those provocations.

    How are we to understand these stories? What can we read out of them of relevance to us today?

Psalms 20

If there's a better-known piece of scripture than the 23rd Psalm, I don't know what it is. I would guess that, of all the people in the world that know one Psalm by heart, the vast majority know this one. It's certainly the piece of scripture that I know best, and the prayer that I tend to pray in any times of strife and stress. "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want."

I've used the NIV most of the time during this project, but I love the KJV Psalm 23. That's the one that I know and pray.

I've sung at least four different settings of this text, possibly as many as seven.

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Numbers 10-14

Chapter 11 relates how the Israelites, almost immediately upon leaving Mount Sinai, demonstrated ingratitude towards the LORD again. They "complained about their hardships" and the LORD was angered and sent fire among the outskirts of the camp which consumed some of them. They cried out to Moses, who prayed and the fire stopped.

"And again the Israelites started wailing," complaining that they had no meat and were tired of the manna. The LORD got "exceedingly angry" but Moses was troubled, asking the LORD why he had to deal with all of the burdens of the Israelites. The LORD had him gather seventy elders "who are known to you as leaders" and he put the spirit on them to help carry the burdens. Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, did not join them, but the spirit "also rested on them." When Joshua heard them prophesy, he encouraged Moses to stop them, but Moses was pleased to have more of the people with the spirit. Then the LORD sent a wind which drove quail in from the sea, three feet deep around the camp in all directions. The people gathered and ate, but the LORD was angry with them and "struck them with a severe plague." From there, which they named Kibroth Hattaavah, they traveled to Hazeroth.

In chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron began to speak against Moses because he had married a Cushite. The LORD spoke to all three to come to the Tent of Meeting, then he "came down in a pillar of cloud." He told them that he normally communicated with prophets through dreams and visions but with Moses he speaks face to face, and wonders why they aren't afraid to speak against him. When the cloud lifted, Miriam was leprous, like snow, but Moses cried out to the LORD to heal her. She was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until she came back. They then left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.

In Numbers 13, the Israelites near the promised land, and Moses, at the LORD's command, sent one man from each tribe into Canaan on a scouting mission, to find out about the land and its inhabitants. They went and explored, and brought back grapes and pomegranates and figs, returning after forty days. They reported that the land was flowing with milk and honey but that the people living their were giants, and too strong to attack.

Again, in chapter 14, the people of Israel rebelled against the leadership of Moses, fearing destruction if they tried to enter the promised land, and telling one another that they should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb, from among those who had explored Canaan said that the land was good and the LORD would give it to them, but the people talked about stoning them. The LORD came down and threatened to destroy the people and make a new nation out of Moses, but Moses, arguing in part that the Egyptions would scoff, talked him out of it. The LORD forgave the people, but decreed that none of those who had come out of Egypt and then disobeyed in the desert would enter the promised land, except for Caleb and Joshua. The rest would stay in the desert, their children being shepherds, for forty years, and "in this desert your bodies will fall." The men who had explored Canaan and returned a bad report were struck down by a plague and died - of the men that explored, only Caleb and Joshua survived. When Moses told the LORD's decree to the people, they "mourned bitterly" and acknowledged their sin. Then they determined that they would go up to the promised land, but Moses told them that they were disobeying again and couldn't succeed. They started towards the hill country, "then the Amalekites and Canaanites...came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • It must be unpleasant to wander in the desert. It would tiresome to eat the same thing every day. When we don't have meat, we want meat. But. For the Israelites of all people, having seen what they had seen, being rescued from captivity, to show so little faith seems astounding.
  • Seems. If we stop and examine ourselves, truthfully, it is not, perhaps, as astounding as it seems. Which of us does not quickly become accustomed to good things, to the point of taking them for granted? Which of does not resent an injury, or even an inconvenience, not matter how small? It's part of the sinful nature of humanity.

    God wanted to set Israel apart as an example for other nations. Reading this book, would anyone argue that they aren't?
  • What is the lesson of the story of Eldad and Medad? Is it that GOD will bestow his blessings where he will, and we need to recognize and accept them? Is it simply to reinforce the description of Moses as "more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth"?
  • Certainly, part of the lesson that one can take from is that there is no indispensible man. GOD uses Moses, but he can use others among the Israelites, and will.
  • The Israelites have provoked GOD, and pay the price. Some are killed by fire, others by plague, and, when Moses argues against the destruction of the people, all those who came out of Egypt but disobeyed are prevented from entering the promised land.
  • Human nature has not changed in the last 3000 years. How many times have we resisted something that was asked of us, or ignored it, only to do it defiantly after it was too late or we were told not to? Some of the Israelites did that, only to find, again, that their plans did not work if the were not obeying the LORD's word.

Psalms 22:12-31

I noted the despair in the first half of this prayer yesterday. It continues. This whole psalm is a cry of despair, a cry to the LORD from the depths. The psalmist is surrounded by bulls, dogs, roaring Lions, evil men. Yet in the end, faith remains, trust in the LORD.
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
In his pain, the way out, the comfort and strength, is the LORD, the promises of the LORD and the righteousness of the LORD.

In this psalm, many see the clearest foreshadowing of the crucifixion in the Old Testament.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death...a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet...They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
Psalm 22 is a yearly reading during Holy Week services.

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13 Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.

15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.

17 I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.

18 They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

20 Deliver my life from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.

21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you.

23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,

28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.

31 They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn—
for he has done it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Numbers 8-10

The first verses in Numbers 8 tell how Aaron set up the lamps to light the area in front of the lampstand as the LORD commanded. The rest of the chapter describes the purification of the Levites. They were taken from among the other Israelites and made ceremonially clean by washing, shaving "their whole bodies" and washing their clothes. They performed a grain offering and a sin offering, and gathered the whole Israelite community to lay hands upon the Levites. After the burnt offerings, the Levites were presented as a wave offering to the LORD, set apart from the other Israelites. The LORD said that the Levites were to perform their duties in the Tent of Meeting from age 26 to age 50.

In chapter nine, the LORD tells Moses to have the Israelites celebrate the passover. Moses told the Israelites this, but some were unable to celebrate due to ceremonial uncleanness because of a dead body. They asked what they should do, and Moses told them to wait until he could find out the LORD's command. The LORD instructs them that one who his traveling or unclean may still partake of the passover meal but one is who is not traveling and is clean who does not partake must be cut off.

The LORD's presence rested in the cloud above the tabernacle. When it stayed, the Israelites stayed. When the cloud lifted from the tent of meeting, the Israelites traveled. "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."

In chapter ten, the LORD tells Moses to make two silver trumpets, which are to be used for signalling to the camp when it is time for the leaders to meet and when it is time for the camp to move out. And he tells them to blow the horns when they are in battle in their own land, and "you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies."

Finally, the LORD deemed that they were ready to move on from Sinai, and on the 20th day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year, "the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony." They left the camp, Judah leading the way, followed by Issachar and Zebulun. The tabernacle was carried by the Gershonite and Merarites next. These were followed by Reuben, Simeon and Gad, before the Kohathites came, carrying the holy things. ("The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.") Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin were next, with Dan, Asher and Naphtali as the rearguard.

Moses told Hobab, son of Reuel the Midianite (who was Moses' father-in-law) that they were leaving and encouraged him to come with them. When he said that he was going to return to his own land and his own people, Moses pleaded with him to come, because he knew the desert and could "be our eyes," and told him that they would share with him "whatever good things the LORD gives us." They set out from Sinai ("the mountain of the LORD") with the ark of the covenant going before them and the cloud of the LORD over them. And the chapter closes the ritualistic prayers that Moses would give whenever the ark set out or came to rest.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • One of the striking aspects of the book of Numbers is how mundane much of it is. It has a kind of dry weight of authenticity, in that the vast majority of it, at least thus far, is material that there's absolutely no reason to invent. There are those who contend that the exodus and the conquest never happened, but it's hard to see a good reason that this book would be a late invention.
  • Numbers 9:8 is shocking for those of us who have never heard the voice of GOD directly. A procedural question arises, and Moses' response is, "I don't know - let me ask GOD." And GOD answers him. Directly and, apparently, immediately. Which of us hasn't dreamed of having that resource for our questions? For us, our questions tend to get asked and the answers come, when they do, in very indirect and open-to-interpretation ways, if they come at all. It's hard to imagine having that kind of pipeline to the creator of the universe.
  • The question arises, again, of how the people of Israel could ever turn away after witnessing GOD's presence the way that they have.
  • When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies
    There's a passage that I'd completely forgotten about. And so I've read the Chronicles of Narnia many times, and never realized that Susan's horn is yet one more piece of theology that Lewis "smuggled in."
  • The story of Hobab is interesting in that he does not say what he decided. We are left to imply that he came, but it doesn't actually say that. What I don't know, as I'm writing this, is whether or not it becomes obvious later. If Hobab plays a prominent role later in the book of Numbers or in Deuteronomy, then this quesion will be answered. But right now, I have it.

Psalms 22

Psalm 22 starts with a cry of despair, a cry that Jesus echoed from the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I think it's a cry which we can all understand. Even if never the depth of the pain and suffering that Jesus took for us, or that the psalmist felt, we've all had times when we felt distant or disconnected or "forsaken" by GOD.

As an aside, one of my favorite Messiah choruses is from this passage, "He trusted in GOD that he would deliver him." But there's almost never a chance to sing it unless you're doing the whole oratorio. It has a fabulous bass line, but doesn't really lend itself to a stand-alone performance - there's too much context needed.

Psalm 22
For the director of music. To the tune of "The Doe of the Morning." A psalm of David.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.

4 In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

8 "He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him."

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother's breast.

10 From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother's womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Numbers 4-7

Numbers chapter four describes the duties and responsibilities of the various sub-tribes of the Levites. The Kohathites were responsible for "the care of the most holy things." First, Aaron and his sons are to take down the curtains and cover the holy things, then the Kohathites are to do all of the carrying, though "they must not touch the holy things or they will die" and they "must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die." The Gershonites wre responsible for carrying the curtains, the Tent of Meeting, and the curtains, cloths, etc. The Merarites were responsible for carrying basically all of the structural elements of the tabernacle, the frames and tent pegs and bases. From age 30 to 50, the Kohathites numbered 2750, the Gershonites 2630 and the Merarites 3200, totalling 8580.

Chapter five addresses the issue of the purity of the camp. Any who are diseased or discharging, as described in Leviticus, are sent outside of the camp. The LORD instructs them in giving restitution to those who are wronged, generally adding one fifth to the value in recompense, and atonement sacrifices. There is a test to be performed by the priest if a man suspects his wife of unfaithfulness, involving

Chapter six describes "a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite." A Nazirite would dedicate him or herself to living separately from the rest of the tribe, and refraining from the fruit of the grapevine, shaving or going near dead bodies (to the extent of avoiding becoming unclean if a close relative dies). "Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD. At the end of the year, he must make a sacrifice and shave off his hair, among other things. The chapter finishes with the high priestly blessing.

Chapter seven details the offerings made by the various tribes at the dedication of the tabernacle. Each of the twelve offered the same offering. And then Moses entered the Tent of Meeting and spoke to the LORD.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The test for an unfaithful wife reads uncomfortably like the medieval customs of dunking to see whether a witch would drown or not.
  • The blessing is probably the best known text from this book, and is frequently used as a benediction still today.
  • I'd be surprised to learn that there's a more repetitive chapter in the Bible than Numbers 7. Day by day, the representatives of the twelve tribes bring their offering, consisting of
    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 fine flour mixed with 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.

    And the text presents the list for each of them. So it's in there twelve times. And then, there's a list of the totals, which are, of course, 12 times the individual offerings.

Psalms 21

A psalm of praise. The psalmist praises the LORD, for the joy that the king has in the victories the LORD has given him. There is no supplication here, just joyful acknowledgment of the LORD's grace.

Psalm 21
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 O LORD, the king rejoices in your strength.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!

2 You have granted him the desire of his heart
and have not withheld the request of his lips.

3 You welcomed him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.

4 He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.

5 Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.

6 Surely you have granted him eternal blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

7 For the king trusts in the LORD;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken.

8 Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.

9 At the time of your appearing
you will make them like a fiery furnace.
In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up,
and his fire will consume them.

10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
their posterity from mankind.

11 Though they plot evil against you
and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed;

12 for you will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with drawn bow.

13 Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength;
we will sing and praise your might.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Numbers 1-3

The book of Numbers begins on the first day of the second month of the second year after the exodus from Egypyt, and the LORD told Moses to take a census of the Israelites. Chapter one lists the numbers of "men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army" for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, with the exception of the Levites, who are set aside to serve as priests. There were twelve "tribes" enumerated, however, as the descendants of Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh were listed seperately. The Levites were given instructions to maintain the Tabernacle, to take it down and set it up and carry and care for it. And "the Israelites did all this just as the LORD commanded Moses."

Chapter two discusses the arrangement of the tribal camps, with each tribe having a specified spot to occupy. To the east, Judah, Issachar and Zebulum; to the south, Reuben, Simeon and Gad; to the west, Ephraim and Manasseh, and Benjamin; and to the north, Dan, Asher and Naphtali. The Levites were to set up in the middle with the Tent of Meeting.

In chapter three, the census is taken of the Levites, including Aaron and Moses and their families. Aaron had four sons, two of whom, Nadab and Abihu, died in the Tabernacle as we saw in Leviticus chapter 10, without sons. The rest of the Levites were given to Aaron to assist him in the priestly duties, "doing the workd of the tabernacle." The LORD said that he was taking the Levites "in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman...for all the firstborn are mine." The rest of the chapter contains the Levite census, 22,000 men at least one month old, as well as the specific duties of the various sub-tribes out of the Levites. But there were 22,273 first-born in the people of Israel, and the LORD instructed Moses to collect five shekels for each of the 273 by which the number of first-born exceeded the number of Levites. "Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • This section is strictly historical data. There is no action, no teaching and no giving of law. There's simply a census and enumeration of the tribes of Israel.
  • The largest tribe was Judah. The second largest was Joseph, 72,700 combined. The smallest number listed is Manasseh at 32,200, but that only represents half of the tribe of Joseph. The smallest tribe was Benjamin.

    The Census - Numbers 1
    Joseph (Ephraim)40,500
    Joseph (Manasseh)32,200
    Levi (Numbers 3)22,000
    Twelve Tribes625,550

  • The size of each tribe is consistent in chapter one and chapter two. The total number, including the Levites, is 625,000, which is consistent with the 600,000 of the exodus, and reasonable for 430 years descent from 69 or 70, as I discussed earlier.

Psalms 20

A short prayer, in which the psalmist asks for the LORD's answer when the reader is in distress. The dedication is "for the director of music," but was this intended for a specific person? Is this a prayer or song written for the uplift or encouragement of a specific person, or a person having a specific title, or is it mislabeled? Whoever it was intended for, it is a prayer for Godly assistance in times of trouble, and praise for the LORD who is known to provide help.

For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.

3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.

4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.

6 Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he answers him from his holy heaven
with the saving power of his right hand.

7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

9 O LORD, save the king!
Answer us when we call!

Monday, February 22, 2010


Hebrews 11-13

In chapter 11, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews again makes it clear that he is speaking from the Hebrew tradition by listing, and extolling the virtues of, many of the Hebrew heroes of faith. He describes faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" and notes that "this is what the ancients were commended for." He then lists many of those "ancients" and the faith that they displayed, from Abel, to Noah, to Abraham, down to Rahab and David and Samuel "and the prophets." "These were all commended for their faith...only together with us would they be made perfect."

Hebrews 12 starts by talking about discipline. It can be hard to endure discipline, the author says, but it means that "GOD is treating you as sons." Fathers discipline sons for their own good, and GOD disciplines us "that we may share in his holiness." It isn't pleasant while it happens, but it pays dividends in the long run. He exhorts the readers to "make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy," cautioning them against sexual immorality and against godlessness "like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights." And he compares Mount Sinai ("a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire") to Mount Zion ("the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God"). And tells again how Jesus is "the mediator of a new covenant."

Chapter 13 contains several more exhortations, including, but not limited to, calls for the readers to love one another, not to forget "to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it," to remember those in prison and being mistreated, to honor marriage, eschew adultery and not to be "carried away by all kinds of strange teachings." There are request to pray for "us," the author and others. There's a benediction, news that "our brother Timothy has been released" and greetings from "those from Italy."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Obviously, the title of the book is appropriate to its contents. Whoever wrote it, it is clearly aimed at Christians of a Hebrew background. The appeals to Hebrew scripture would probably not be meaningful to gentiles, and certainly the list of heroes of the faith are all heroes of the Jewish faith.
  • The closing exhortation includes a couple of things that make a Pauline attribution easily understandable. Aside for the fact that Paul was, himself, an observant Jew and so knowledgeable and well-positioned to make the arguments include, the closing includes a note that "our brother Timothy has been released." Certainly, had Paul written this letter, that would be an unsurprising comment.
  • There's just wonderful imagery in the first three verses of chapter 12, with the "great cloud of witnesses," "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us," "let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." Wonderful, rich, timeless exhortation.

Psalms 19

In evangelical circles, at least, God's revelation to us takes two chief forms. One of these is "special revelation," in which God directly acts in human affairs. The Bible comes to us through special revelation, as GOD spoke to Abraham and Moses and David, GOD sent Jesus to earth and guided the writers who created the gospels.

The other kind of revelation is general revelation, which is GOD's nature revealed for all to see in the nature of his creation. Psalm 19 is a psalm of general revelation. The psalmist looks out at the world around him and sees that
the heavens declare the glory of GOD; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they display knowledge.
We cannot know GOD's intent for our lives, how to worship him, how Jesus died for our sins, without the special revelation of the scriptures. But we can, through general revelation, know a great deal about GOD. When we look at the beautiful and spectacular universe he has created. The psalmist moves from general revelation to specific later in the prayer ("the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple") but primarily, this psalm is a wonderful example of the extent of GOD's general revelation.

As a musical bonus, here's a setting of parts of the 19th Psalm by Beethoven, performed in 2005 by the Park Street Church Sanctuary Choir. The recording isn't very good, but it's a great piece.

Psalm 19
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard. [a]

4 Their voice [b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.

11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Hebrews 7-10

In Hebrews 7, the author continues the comparison of Jesus with Melchizedek, the high priest of GOD and king of Salem who was mentioned in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. He uses Melchizedek as a prototype for a high priest who is eternally just that, "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life...he remains a priest forever." And even Abraham "gave him a tenth of the plunder." He suggests that if perfection was possible through the Levitical law and priesthood, there would have been no need for a greater priest, but it was not, so Jesus came from the tribe of Judah. And he says that the law made nothing perfect but "Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant...he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them...the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever."

In chapter eight, he makes clear that the entire point of the high priest discussion is to emphasis that there is a high priest, and he is a high priest not of the line of Aaron, but of Melchizedek, a priest who sat "at the right hand of the the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man." Because of the sin of man, he goes on, GOD had to make a new covenant, because man did not keep the old covenant. Jesus serves as a new high priest in the "true tabernacle."

Chapter nine starts with discussion of the worship regulations of the first covenant, how they had specific places in the tabernacle. The high priest went into the Most Holy place "only once a year, and never without blood." But "the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper." "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" All of the things in the tabernacle, all of the regulations and rituals, are imitations of heavenly things. But "Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." In chapter 10, the writer emphasizes that Christ's sacrifice was made once for all. If the temple sacrifices had been able to truly cleanse the people and make them perfect, he suggest, they would not have needed to be made year after year. "But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The whole Melchizedek discussion is interesting, albeit a bit odd. At the time that his name appears in Genesis 14, he is said to be the King of Salem (that is, Jerusalem) and "a priest of God most high." I commented on reading that chapter that "it is difficult to know exactly what that would mean in the time before the birth of Israel." The only other Old Testament reference to him came a thousand years later, in Psalm 110. I still feel that it's hard to understand, but the author of this epistle uses him as a high priest who is an eternal high priest. High priest before Aaron, high priest still, and, therefore, a proxy for Jesus.
  • Jesus said that not a jot or a tittle of the law would pass away, but the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says that the law has been superseded.
  • One of the things that I think is hard for us to understand is the impact that the phrase "blood of Christ" would have in a society where sacrifice was a way of life. As I noted when discussing Leviticus, the overwhelming impression that book leaves on the modern reader is blood - its pages are drenched in it. But that was the backdrop to the incarnation. When we talk about about Jesus Christ dying as atonement for our sins, it's a use of language, a turn of phrase, that we are used to hearing. To the early Christians and particularly those of a Jewish background, the atonement for sins was a bloody business to which they were well accustomed. It had a particular meaning to them that is hard for us to fully understand. But all of Leviticus looks, in retrospect, as if it were preparation for a world in which the incarnation would be necessary. The rites and rituals, the sin offering and atonement rituals, all prepared a people to understand the atonement for sin which was achieved for all men by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the sin washed away in the blood of Christ.

Psalms 18:25-50

The martial imagery continues in the second half of the 18th psalm, but in more of a praise psalm. The LORD is said to "save the humble...his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him." The praise takes many forms, praise for victory and support and vanquishment of enemies, praise for faithfulness and keeping the lamp burning, turning darkness into light. "Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD; I will sing praises to your name."

Psalm 18
For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:

25 To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,

26 to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

27 You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.

28 You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.

29 With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.

30 As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless.
He is a shield
for all who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God besides the LORD ?
And who is the Rock except our God?

32 It is God who arms me with strength
and makes my way perfect.

33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he enables me to stand on the heights.

34 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35 You give me your shield of victory,
and your right hand sustains me;
you stoop down to make me great.

36 You broaden the path beneath me,
so that my ankles do not turn.

37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.

38 I crushed them so that they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.

39 You armed me with strength for battle;
you made my adversaries bow at my feet.

40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
and I destroyed my foes.

41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
to the LORD, but he did not answer.

42 I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind;
I poured them out like mud in the streets.

43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
you have made me the head of nations;
people I did not know are subject to me.

44 As soon as they hear me, they obey me;
foreigners cringe before me.

45 They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.

46 The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Savior!

47 He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,

48 who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from violent men you rescued me.

49 Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD;
I will sing praises to your name.

50 He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Hebrews 4-6

Chapter four continues the discussion from chapter three of those unfaithful Israelites who failed to follow GOD's laws after being brought out of captivity in Egypt and therefore failed to enter the promised land. Now the author is referring to GOD's rest, and says that much as those were unable to enter the promised land, those having now heard the gospel and not combining it with faith will face GOD's anger and not be able to enter GOD's rest. He exhorts his readers to "make every effort to enter that rest," and not to "fall by following their example of disobedience." And he compares the word of GOD to a double-edged sword.

He continues to talk about obedience by claiming Jesus as the great high priest for Christians, Jesus "the son of GOD." And how Jesus is not unable to sympathize with their weaknesses, but was tempted "in every way." And that through him, they could approach the "throne of grace with confidence."

Chapter five continues the metaphor of Jesus as the high priest. He makes the point that no one can claim that honor, but that it must be given by GOD, as he gave it to Aaron. He speaks of Jesus' days on earth, and the "prayers and petitions" which he offered to GOD, "and he was heard because of his reverent submission." And the author makes the point that he has to be simple with his teaching, because they are like infants in the faith, not yet ready for solid food.

Nevertheless, he begins in chapter six, it is time to leave the elementary taching "and go on to maturity." He warns them of the danger of turning away, now that they've heard the gospel, and says that those falling away, "to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." He follow chastisement with word of encouragement, expressing faith in their ability to "imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." Finally, he expresses confidence in the certainty of GOD's promise to Abraham, and confidence that Jesus has gone into GOD's holy sanctuary, where only the high priest goes, and "has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • GOD's rest here seems to be an allusion to heaven, or GOD's presence, "[Jesus'] father's house."
  • The message here continues to be framed in Old Testament references, terminology and lessons. In adition to the continual quotes, the author cites the behavior of Moses, of the Israelites, of Joshua, of David, of Melchizedek and of GOD, as told in the Jewish scriptures.
  • Again, we see the early high Christology of the church, how Jesus was called the son of GOD, how he gave his life as a sacrifice for atonement of our sins, and how he sits at the right hand of the father.

Psalms 18:1-24

The first half of the 18th Psalm is largely given to a powerful poetic image of the psalmist's rescue by the LORD. He cried out to GOD from his distress and
the earth trembled and quaked...Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it...He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning....He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them...He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.
Wonderful imagery of a rescue from desperate straits by an all-powerful savior.

Psalm 18
For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.

2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

3 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies.

4 The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

5 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called to the LORD;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.

7 The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because he was angry.

8 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.

9 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.

10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.

11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
the dark rain clouds of the sky.

12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

13 The LORD thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.

14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies ,
great bolts of lightning and routed them.

15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, O LORD,
at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.

17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.

18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the LORD was my support.

19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

20 The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD;
I have not done evil by turning from my God.

22 All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.

23 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.

24 The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Hebrews 1-4

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews starts his letter by talking of the way that GOD spoke to the prophets in the past, but that now he spoke through his son, "appointed heir of all much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." And he makes the point by identifying many scriptural references which identify and speak of Jesus in a way that no one would speak of the angels.

In chapter two, he notes that this places an obligation on us to "pay more careful that we do not drift away...How shall we escape if we ignore sucha great salvation?" The quotations continue, including the lovely passage from the 8th psalm, "what is man that you are mindful of him?" And he emphasizes the sovereignty of Jesus, as "GOD left nothing that is not subject to him." And he makes clear the understanding of Jesus as savior - "he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." But he also emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. He was not only fully GOD, he was fully man, and shared humanity to "destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil..."

Chapter three begins with a mention of Jesus being greater than Moses. And again, he quotes the psalms (95) in warning against unbelief. "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." He encourages his readers to encourage one another every day, and not to let them be "hardened by sin's deceitfullness." And he reminds them of the way that those led out of Egypt still rebelled in the desert and incurred the LORD's wrath for forty years, and were not able to enter the promised land "because of their unbelief."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • It was thought by some that Hebrews is a Pauline epistle but most scholars agree now that it is not. There are schools of thought suggesting Barnabas or Silas, among others, but no one knows for sure. Except one - as Origen said, "Yahweh only knows."
  • As with the authorship, the time and place of its writing are also unknown. It is, therefore, not clear under what circumstances the epistle was penned. The target audience is clear, however, as the frequent Old Testament references make it clear that it was aimed at scripture-reading Jews.
  • The angels are, as we are, creatures, made (created) and not begotten.
  • It is hard for us, but it was hard for them, too. Even the disciples, the ones that were with Jesus and saw with their own eyes the miracles, had difficulty in following his instructions. How much harder is it for us 2000 years removed? That's one of the hardest transitions of Christian faith, in my opinion. It's one thing to believe, on an intellectual level, that Jesus came and died on the cross for our sins. It's another thing entirely to actually live as if we believe it.
  • Not that there is any question, but the reference to Moses is one of the items that makes the target audience clear. For the Jews, Moses was the great prophet, and to tell them that Jesus was greater than Moses is to make a strong statement, a statement that would be weak or meaningless to a gentile, a Roman or a Greek.
  • There are fourteen Old Testament references in those three chapters, mostly from Psalms, but also from 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, Deuteronomy and Isaiah.

Psalms 17

The psalmist cries out for salvation, or for justice. But the most striking things about this psalm to a Christian is the way that the psalmist justifies himself before God - he calls his plea "righteous," saying that "it does not rise from deceitful lips...My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped." This is a psalm that is uncomfortable coming from Christian lips. We are more familiar and comfortable with Psalm 51 ("against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. ") The psalmist is asking for justice, where we rightly fear it.

Psalm 17
A prayer of David.
1 Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea;
listen to my cry.
Give ear to my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.

2 May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right.

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing;
I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.

4 As for the deeds of men—
by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent.

5 My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.

6 I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;
give ear to me and hear my prayer.

7 Show the wonder of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings

9 from the wicked who assail me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.

10 They close up their callous hearts,
and their mouths speak with arrogance.

11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.

12 They are like a lion hungry for prey,
like a great lion crouching in cover.

13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down;
rescue me from the wicked by your sword.

14 O LORD, by your hand save me from such men,
from men of this world whose reward is in this life.
You still the hunger of those you cherish;
their sons have plenty,
and they store up wealth for their children.

15 And I—in righteousness I will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Leviticus 25-27

Chapter 25 of Leviticus contains the LORD's instructions for the sabbath year and the Jubilee year. As the seventh day of every week is a sabbath for the people, every seventh year "the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD." So the people would not sow or reap every seventh year. Every 50th year, the LORD decrees a Jubilee year, where the people are to return to their own clan and their own property. The LORD also gave laws regarding the selling of land, but only to fellow Israelites and "the land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants." Instructions include dealing with the poor, slaves, hired workers, temporary residents and those who sell but want to redeem their property.

Leviticus 26 is another exhortation from the LORD to follow his commands, the law which he has been handing down on Mt. Sinai. And he emphasizes the benefits that will accrue from doing so. If the Israelites follow GOD's laws, they will have "rain in its season and the ground will yield its crops...I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid." But just as obedience brings its rewards, disobedience results in punishment. If they do not follow the LORD's commands, "I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you." And the book ends in chapter 27 with rules and instructions for dedicating persons, and sacrifices and property to the LORD.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • One of the things that we tend to think is that the Bible would support the claims of the antebellum abolitionists. On the contrary - there are several passages dealing with slavery, including these chapters of Leviticus, and in none of them is it unreservedly condemned.
  • This is a book of law. It is law for the Israelites, but it is law. It starts with the Israelites receiving the law at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and ends with them in the same place. There are essentially two short narrative stories in the entire book.
  • The promised land is for the people of Israel, but only as long as they obey God's commands.
  • "These are the commands the LORD gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the Israelites." The commands are not for all people. They are for Israel, a people set aside as an example for everyone else.

Psalms 16

The 16th psalm is, at its heart, a psalm of gratitude to the LORD. "In you I take have assignew me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure." And the psalmist promises to continue to praise the LORD and follow his instructions.

Psalm 16
A miktam of David.

1 Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.

2 I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing."

3 As for the saints who are in the land,
they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those will increase
who run after other gods.
I will not pour out their libations of blood
or take up their names on my lips.

5 LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.

6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.

8 I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Leviticus 22-24

In chapter 22, the LORD emphasizes the importance of proper handling of the sacred offerings by the priests "so they will not profane my holy name." The priests must be clean, and if any condition of uncleanness occurs, they must be cleansed before handling the sacrifices. "The priests are to keep my requirements so that they do not become guilty and die for treating them with contempt. I am the LORD, who makes them holy." He also reiterates the instructions regarding the sacrifices - they are to be "without blemish."

in chapter 23, the LORD repeats the instructions for the appointed feasts. The sabbath is "a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work." The Passover, the festival of the First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles are all mentioned with times and rituals.

Leviticus 24 features the first narrative of any kind since the deaths of Nadab and Abihu in chapter 10. First, the LORD commands the Israelites to bring clear olive oil for the lamps and tells them that Aaron is to tend the lamps continually in the Tent of Meeting. Then, in verse 10, a son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father got into a fight with an Israelite and "blasphemed the Name with a curse." They put him in custody "until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them." The LORD told Moses to take him outside the camp, and that the entire assembly should stone him, "anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death." He reiterates the principle of justice, "eye for eye, tooth for tooth." And the Israelites took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him, as the LORD had commanded.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • For the vast majority of the book of Leviticus, nothing happens. The stoning of the blasphemer is the first narrative of any kind since the deaths of Nadab and Abihu in chapter 10, and is really only the second piece of narrative in the book. It's a book of law, and that's it, at least through the first 24 chapters.
  • It's interesting to get the stoning of the blasphemer at the same time as the reminder to let the punishment fit the crime. It's hard to get into the mind-set where death is an appropriate punishment for blasphemy.

Psalms 15

The psalmist reflects, briefly, on the good things that come to he "whose walk is blameless."

Psalm 15
A psalm of David.
1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?

2 He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart

3 and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman,

4 who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath
even when it hurts,

5 who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things
will never be shaken.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Leviticus 19-21

Leviticus 19 contains instructions from the LORD to the Israelites, through Moses, on a variety of topics. Many of these instructions are either reiterations of, or expansions and commentaries upon, the Ten Commandments. There are admonitions to honor parents, observe the sabbath, abhor idols and false gods, not to lie or steal or swear falsely or defraud or pervert justice, and to honor the LORD and follow his commands. There are instructions to leave the edges and corners of the harvest and the vineyard for the poor and the alien. Verse 27 contains the admonition not to "cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard," which results in the distinctive look of the orthodox.

In chapter 20, the LORD follows the behavioral instructions with appropriate punishments. For many of the sexual sins outlined in chapter 18, the specified punishment is death. The methods specified include stoning and burning. Chapter 21 contains rules intended specifically for the priests who, even more than the community as a whole, "must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the LORD by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy." The priests had to marry virgins, not divorced or widowed or "defiled by prostitution," they couldn't shave their hair or beards, and they musth not be "blind or lame, disfigured or deformed."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • There are a great many different topics touched upon in chapter 19, and they are all aimed at one goal, as stated in verse 2 - "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy." Indeed, that is the underlying theme of the entire book thus far. It's a book of instructions for God's people to follow in being an example for all others. Jesus' said the same thing to his followers in the Sermon on the Mount, that they were to be salt and light for the world.
  • We certainly live in a society which could fairly be characterized as sinful. But if we were to have a tendency to think of it as uniquely corrupt in human history, we ought to resist. Go back to Leviticus and consider the things that God finds it necessary to specifically outlaw. There's nothing whatsoever unique about the sinful nature of our society but the new technologies with which we distribute it.
  • I've mentioned this before, but again, anyone who uses the sixth Commandment to argue that God told men not to use capital punishment is misinformed or dishonest. God endorsed capital punishment, in many cases.

Psalms 14

"God is present in the company of the righteous." The psalmist here praises those who live in, and depend upon, the LORD. By contrast, those who do not follow the LORD "are corrupt, their deeds are vile." But he doesn't let himself off the hook, saying that "all have turned aside...there is no one who does good, not even one." And again, the prayer ends with praises and protestations of faith, as "the LORD is their refuge...when the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!"

Psalm 14
For the director of music. Of David.
1 The fool says in his heart,
"There is no God."
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.

2 The LORD looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.

3 All have turned aside,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

4 Will evildoers never learn—
those who devour my people as men eat bread
and who do not call on the LORD ?

5 There they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.

6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is their refuge.

7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Leviticus 15-18

Leviticus 15 deals with "bodily discharges" and uncleanness. The specifics of the discharges are left to the imagination, but the discussion tends to deal with things that men and women sit or lie on. In general, the requirements involve cleaning or destroying the things that the afflicted sit or lie on, followed by a period of days which ends with a ritual sacrifice.

In chapter 16, the LORD describes the actions to be taken by Aaron, and the priests, when entering the Holy of Holys behind the curtain in the tabernacle. And a process of purification and sacrifices to be performed once a year as a Day of Atonement. Among the things to be done is the sacrifice of one goat, and the loading of sins upon another, a scapegoat, to be led into the desert and left there. And the LORD said that "this is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites." Chapter 17 deals with more aspects of the ritual sacrifice, and includes, again, the injunction not to eat blood, "for the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life."

Chapter 18 expounds on the 7th commandment, "thou shall not commit adultery." It deals with all sorts of sexual immorality, from incest to homosexuality to bestiality. It also explicitly commands them not to "give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech." The LORD said, "you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • As already noted, the particulars of the bodily discharges are not specified, and I feel no need to speculate. I will say this, as someone who covered 700 miles on a bicycle one week, that it's easy to imagine that, in the conditions in which they lived, and with the sanitary facilities they enjoyed, open wounds were not all that uncommon.
  • Another thing that's worth noting about chapter 15 is that the advice/recommendations/laws are all practical. OK, mostly practical. The requirement to break a clay pot that a man touches, the requirement of the sacrifices and sin offerings are a little less so.
  • Blood. "For the life of a creature is in the blood." Blood is the overwhelming impression that this book is leaving on me.
  • Chapter 18 contains a fairly extensive list of sexual sins, but there aren't actually any behavioral restrictions, only partner restrictions. That is to say, there aren't any specific acts forbidden other than by implication, by forbidding some possible sexual partners.

Psalms 13

The psalmist is struggling with the silence that sometimes answers prayer. "How long O Lord? ... Look on me and answer!" We want answers, and we want them immediately. And we want them to come clearly, without requiring work or interpretation. "Will you hide from me forever?"

But, in the end, he "trusts in [God's] unfailing love," and "will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me."

Psalm 13
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

4 my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

6 I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Leviticus 12-14

Chapter 12 deals with purification after childbirth. The process of giving birth leaves a woman "ceremonially unclean" for seven days after giving birth to a boy and two weeks after giving birth to a girl. There is an offering specified at the end of "the days of her purification."

Chapters 13 and 14 deal extensively with leprosy and other infectious skin diseases. The symptoms are described, and the people facing them need to see a priest, who will examine and quarantine the sufferer. Eventually, some will be cleansed, and others will be essentially outcast, forced to wear their hair and clothes in such a way as to make it obvious to all that they are afflicted. In addition to skin diseases, these chapters also deal with spreading mildew, on cloth and in houses.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Blood, blood, blood. It is fascinating that, with as much blood as the priests were dripping and draining and sprinkling about, the natural blood flow associated with birth actually would make a woman be considered "unclean."
  • Obviously, medicine was different back then. And certainly, having a set of procedures to deal with infectious disease is vitally important to a small group of people. But it just reads strangely to have the specificity on skin color and depth of discoloration and color of hair growing out of a discolored patch actually come as laws handed down by God. This is the kind of thing that some of us have trouble accepting as coming directly from God. When the priests are the conduit, and they can benefit from saying that something came from God, well, "God says do this" carries a lot more authority than "I say do this."

Psalms 12

The psalmist here is again issuing a call for justice. This is clearly a psalm sung or prayed at a time when the world seems particularly wicked, when the psalmist sees the righteous suffering and the wicked prospering. Many modern Christians tremble at the idea of divine justice, recognizing, as we do, how deep our sins are. But the psalmists are often looking for, pleading for justice. This is a plea to the LORD to take control of the world, to protect the righteous and punish the wicked. "May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue..." And it sounds as if it were inspired by some particular person or persons.

Psalm 12
For the director of music. According to sheminith . A psalm of David.
1 Help, LORD, for the godly are no more;
the faithful have vanished from among men.

2 Everyone lies to his neighbor;
their flattering lips speak with deception.

3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue

4 that says, "We will triumph with our tongues;
we own our lips — who is our master?"

5 "Because of the oppression of the weak
and the groaning of the needy,
I will now arise," says the LORD.
"I will protect them from those who malign them."

6 And the words of the LORD are flawless,
like silver refined in a furnace of clay,
purified seven times.

7 O LORD, you will keep us safe
and protect us from such people forever.

8 The wicked freely strut about
when what is vile is honored among men.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Leviticus 9-11

In chapter nine, Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and his elders, "on the eighth day." They gathered to begin the priestly ministry of Aaron and his family. Aaron offered a calf as a sin offering from himself and a lamb as a burnt offering. He then sacrificed a goat as a sin offering for the people. He offered hte burnt offering and the grain offering. He then sacrificed an ox and a ram as a fellowship offering for the people, then he turned and lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. Moses and Aaron entered the tent and blessed the people when they came out. And the glory of the LORD appeared, and fire came out and consumed the offerings on the altar, and the people prostrated themselves.

Chapter ten opens with Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron's sons, offering unauthorized fire before the LORD, and fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them. Moses told Aaron that the LORD had warned people not to approach him in an unworthy fashion. He then called two of Aaron's cousins and had them remove the dead bodies outside the camp. He then warned Aaron and his other two sons Eleazar and Ithamar to maintain a calm demeanor "or you will die and the LORD will be angry with the whole community." And he told them that they couldn't leave the entrance to the Tent of Meeting because they had the anointing oil on them. Then the LORD gave Aaron and his sons more instructions, including that they were not to drink when they went to the Tent of Meeting. "This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses."

Moses told Aaron and his sons to take the grain offering left over and eat it "in a holy place, because it is your share." When he asked after the goat from the sin offering and discovered that it had been burnt up, he was angry, but Aaron asked, "Would the LORD have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?" That appeased Moses.

In chapter 11, the LORD began to lay out the dietary laws to Moses and Aaron.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Chapter 9 starts "on the eighth day," but eighth day of what, I don't know. I've lost track of what the timeline is, and am unsure of the reference. Is is the eighth day of the first month? The eighth day after the erection of the tabernacle? I do not know.
  • The deaths of Nadab and Abihu seem almost extravagantly unnecessary. "They offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command," but I don't understand what command is being referenced. The only thing that I see that comes close in from chapter 6, but that just said that the fire on the altar should be kept burning, not that fire couldn't come near to the altar from other places. I just don't understand what the background is, what command has been violated.
  • I presume that there is some logic to the list of clean and unclean animals. I haven't done any research into it, but there is nothing obvious to me.

Psalms 11

Number 11 is a psalm expressing trust in the LORD.

I never noticed before how many verses in the psalms sound exactly like verses from proverbs. Consider verse 5 - "the LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates." Out of context, would you be able to identify the source?

1 In the LORD I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
"Flee like a bird to your mountain.

2 For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.

3 When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do [a] ?"

4 The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD is on his heavenly throne.
He observes the sons of men;
his eyes examine them.

5 The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked [b] and those who love violence
his soul hates.

6 On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

7 For the LORD is righteous,
he loves justice;
upright men will see his face.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Leviticus 5-8

Chapter five begins talking about sin and "unclean"ness. Among the sins specifically mentioned are refusing to testify when one has knowledge and taking an oath "thoughtlessly." This is quickly followed up with an extension of the discussion of the rituals of cleansing. Anyone guilty of any of these sins must confess and bring a lamb or goat or two doves or two young pigeons as a sacrifice. There are specific instructions for the priest as to how to perform the sacrifice. If he cannot afford any of the previous prices mentioned, the sinner should bring flour for his sin offering. And the LORD is clear in his instructions that the sin occurs when the LORD's commands are broken, even if the guilty party does not realize it.

Chapter 6 identifies more specific sins, including deceiving one's neighbor about something left in his care, or finding lost property and not returning it. The guilty party much make restitution in full plus 20% more, and make a guilt offering. This is followed by further instructions for the specific rituals to be associated with the burnt offering, the grain offering and the sin offering. Then chapter 7 offers the regulations for the guilt offering and the fellowship offering. And, as part of the regulations, the Israelites are forbidden from eating fat or blood.

In chapter 8, the LORD tells Moses to bring Aaron and his sons, the priestly garments, the anointing oil, a bull, two rams and basket of unleavened bread, and to gather everyone at the tent of meeting. Then Moses washed Aaron and his sons with water, and dressed Aaron in the garments. He anointed the tabernacle and everything in it with the oil. They offered the bull for the sin offering and the ram for the burnt offering. The ram was sacrificed for the ordination of Aaron and his sons, and blood was put on their ears thumbs and toes and sprinkled on the altar. So Aaron and his sons were consecrated as the LORD had instructed.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • My overwhelming perception, eight chapters in, is that the pages of Leviticus are drenched in blood. Blood sprinkled, burnt, poured. Blood on the altar, on the ground, on the robes. It's a very bloody book.
  • Thus far, the law being handed down has been explicitly for the Israelites. Even the Ten Commandments are explicitly intended for the children of Israel - "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt." Why do Christians not have to follow the Levitical dietary and ritual laws? Because those were for a covenant with the people of Israel. Christians are part of a new Covenant in Jesus Christ.
  • Do modern Jews, even the orthodox, practice the sacrifices as they've been laid out here? Not that I know of. What I don't know is why that is the case.

Psalms 10

The Psalmist ponders the seeming lack of the presence of God. "Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" And, with God "hid[ing]," the wicked take advantage. "His victims are crushed, they collapse...they fall under his strength. He says to himself, 'God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.'" But the Psalmist cries for the LORD, and trusts that he is still watching, listening and caring. "You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more."

Psalm 10

1 [a]Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.

3 He boasts of the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.

4 In his pride the wicked does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

5 His ways are always prosperous;
he is haughty and your laws are far from him;
he sneers at all his enemies.

6 He says to himself, "Nothing will shake me;
I'll always be happy and never have trouble."

7 His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.

8 He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent,
watching in secret for his victims.

9 He lies in wait like a lion in cover;
he lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.

10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.

11 He says to himself, "God has forgotten;
he covers his face and never sees."

12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.

13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
"He won't call me to account"?

14 But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

15 Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;
call him to account for his wickedness
that would not be found out.

16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.

17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,

18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Leviticus 1-4

The Books of Moses that make up the Pentateuch continue in Leviticus. Exodus described how the LORD led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, and how he handed down to them the law. In Leviticus, much of that law is described. Today's reading, the first four chapters, all deal with specific details for various offerings. Chapter one describes, in detail, the process for making a burnt offering. Chapter two describes the grain offering and chapter three, the "fellowship" offering. Chapter four describes the steps for making the sin offering.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • There's a tremendous amount of repetition in this section, as the instructions for the various offering are very similar, and each is repeated for minor variations in circumstances.
  • The burnt offering, whether from the herd or the flock, must be a male. The "fellowship" offering can be either male or female.
  • "It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD" is in chapter one three times. The "aroma pleasing to the LORD" is repeated a couple more times in chapter three.
  • Jesus is often referred to as the "lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Chapter four of Leviticus describes the sin offering process. "If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed...If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he is to bring a female without defect. He is to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered."

Psalms 9

Psalm 9 comes with an interesting note, in that a tune is specified. Apparently, there are eleven psalms with tunes specified, number 9 is the first. I have no idea what the tune is, obviously, nor do I suspect that it would be of much use with the English words. But it seems to me to be one more foreshadowing in the Old Testament of the pivotal events of the New. In reality, is not the whole story of the Bible, start to finish, about "the Death of the Son," and the redemption accomplished through it?

And just to acknowledge the cluelessness which this exercise involves, as I read this tonight it occurs to me, for the first time, that the story of Abraham and Isaac is, in miniature, the story of redemption which God has writ large upon the earth. He asked of Abraham no more than he then provided for us - the sacrifice of his son as an atonement for sin.

This is also a praise psalm, albeit one with a more martial air than the one which precedes it. Much of the praise is for not only protecting againd, but destroying, "the enemy."

Psalm 9
For the director of music. To the tune of "The Death of the Son." A psalm of David.
1 [a]I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonders.

2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

3 My enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you.

4 For you have upheld my right and my cause;
you have sat on your throne, judging righteously.

5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

6 Endless ruin has overtaken the enemy,
you have uprooted their cities;
even the memory of them has perished.

7 The LORD reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.

8 He will judge the world in righteousness;
he will govern the peoples with justice.

9 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.

10 Those who know your name will trust in you,
for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.

12 For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.

13 O LORD, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,

14 that I may declare your praises
in the gates of the Daughter of Zion
and there rejoice in your salvation.

15 The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.

16 The LORD is known by his justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
Higgaion. [b] Selah

17 The wicked return to the grave, [c]
all the nations that forget God.

18 But the needy will not always be forgotten,
nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.

19 Arise, O LORD, let not man triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.

20 Strike them with terror, O LORD;
let the nations know they are but men.