Monday, March 1, 2010


Numbers 18-21

In chapter 18, the LORD spoke to Aaron, and told him that he and his sons "and your father's family" will bear the responsibility for any offenses against the sanctuary, and that he and his sons will bear responsibility for any offenses against the priesthood. The other Levites have been given to do the work of the Tent of Meeting, but only he and his sons may serve as priests at the altar and inside the curtain - anyone else would be put to death. With their burdens and responsibilities, they will also be supported by the offerings of the people. He and his sons are to have "\the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire." The LORD gives them that as their portion. That also means that they "will have no inheritance in their land...I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites." They are to have "all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance."

Numbers 19 describes the water of cleansing. A red heifer "without defect or blemish" is to be sacrificed and burned, with cedar, hyssop and scarlet wool tossed on while its burning. The ashes are to be gathered by someone clean and put in a ceremonially clean place outside camp. The ashes, placed in a clean jar with clean water forms the water of cleansing, which can be used to clean unclean people and things.

In chapter 20, Miriam dies and is buried at Kadesh. Then the company grumbles against Moses and Aaron again, because there is no water. Moses and Aaron "fell facedown" in the Tent of Meeting, and "the glory of the LORD appeard to them." He told Moses to gather the assembly and to speak to a rock, and "it will pour out its water." So Moses speaks to the assembly, calls them rebels, and strikes the rock with his staff, and water gushes out. But the LORD was angered with Moses "because you did not trust in me enought to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites," and he told him that he would not lead the people in to the promised land.

Moses sent messages to the king of Edom, telling him about the promises the LORD had made and how he had brought them out of Egypt, and asked permission to pass through Edom. But the Edomites refused and threatened to attack them if they tried. The Israelites sent back word that they would stay on the main road, and take nothing, not even grass or water, but again the Edom said no, and "came out against them with a large and powerful army." So Israel turned away.

After that they left Kadesh and came to Mount Hor, where the LORD told Moses and Aaron that "Aaron will be gathered to his people." At the LORD's command, they went up Mount Hor with Eleazar and transferred the priestly garments on to him, and then Aaron died on top of the mountain. The whole of Israel mourned for 30 days.

Numbers 21 starts with a story of the Canaanite king of Arad capturing some Israelites as they traveled the road to Atharim. Israel pledged to GOD that if he would "deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities." The LORD heard, and gave the Canaanites over to them and they destroyed the cities.

But, as they traveled the Red Sea route around Edom, they again grew miserable and grumbled against Moses and against the LORD. The LORD sent venomous snakes among them and many died, but Moses prayed, and the LORD told him to "make a snake and put it on a pole." Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole, and anyone who was bitten could look at the bronze snake and live. They continued on towards Moab, and the book describes places along the way. It also references another book, apparently now lost, called the "Book of the Wars of the LORD."

As they had done with Edom, the Israelites sent a message to Sihon, king of the Amorites, that they would take nothing if allowed to pass through, but, also like the Edomites, Sihon refused. He mustered his army and marched out to attack. The Israelites won, and "took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites." They captured all of the cities of the Amorites and occupied them. Moses then sent spies to Jazer and captured its settlements and "drove out the Amorites who were there." They then turned towards Bashan, and Og, kind of Bashan, marched to meet them with his entire army. The LORD told Moses that "I have handed him over to you," and they struck him down and his whole army, "leaving them no survivors," and "took possession of his land."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Among a nation set apart from other nations, the descendants of Aaron are set apart yet again, as a priesthood among the nation of priests. That seems a heavy burden.
  • Ps 51:7 - "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."

    I've recited that many times, as we read the 51st psalms as a prayer of confession before the Lord's Supper at Park Street. But I never understood the context for it. Now I do. It's a reference to Numbers 19 and the water of purification. The ashes from the purification offering, with clean water, are sprinkled using hyssop. And there was hyssop burned as part of the purification offering. The ritual was to be performed to make the unclean clean. So this is a prayer for ritualistic cleansing as the LORD commands.
  • It's difficult to be sure what, exactly, Moses did that angered GOD at Meribah. My best guess reading is that Moses said "must we bring you water out of this rock" rather than "must the LORD bring water out of this rock" but I don't know that for sure. I may be misreading. If that's it, again, it seems harsh to treat Moses that way after the service he's given (albeit, not without some grumbling of his own along the way.) Maybe that's part of the lesson. "With GOD all things are possible" and failing to acknowledge the work of the LORD is a sin. And all sin, and fall short, and are in danger of judgement. If Moses can be kept out of the promised land for mis-speaking at this point and in this way, how could any of us possibly think we've "earned" our way in to heaven?
  • Aaron's death seems...unseemly. I guess that it makes sense, if dead bodies are unclean, that you don't want him dying in the priestly garments, but the passage reads cold. Aaron also gave good service to the LORD.

    But again, all sin, all fall short. Even Aaron, even Moses.
  • As some point, you assume that you're going to stop reading things like this:
    They quarreled with Moses and said, "If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD's community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place?
    But no. No amount of convincing seems to work. Here, in chapter 20, complaining about their conditions.

    And here again in chapter 21:
    ...they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"
    It's understandable why the LORD was angered against them.
  • Yes, GOD told them to make the bronze snake while they made the golden calf on their own, but that strikes me as dangerously close to idol worship. And it's definitely the kind of thing that leads to idol worship - "hey, that bronze snake can protect you from snake bites!"
  • It seems likely that Numbers 21 marks the actual start of the conquest of Canaan, which is predominantly documented in the book of Joshua.

Psalms 24

Another psalm of praise, of acknowledgment of the LORD and the debts we all owe to him. "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it..." But again, we see the Jewish perspective of ritualistic cleansing, of following the law, as preparing a man to "ascend the hill of the LORD." The Christian perspective is that none of us can ever prepare to ascend that hill on our own, that no amount of works or cleansing can enable a man to follow the law well enough to earn that. Only Jesus could ascend that hill, and we can only do it in him.

One of Handel's wonderful Messiah choruses is the last four verses of this psalm.

Psalm 24
Of David. A psalm.
1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;

2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.

3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?
Who may stand in his holy place?

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false. [a]

5 He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob. [b]

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.

9 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

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