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.

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