Archive for April, 2010

Day 118: Numbers 1

            Welcome to the exciting book of Numbers!

            In the first chapter the tribes are numbered by census. That is, all the men available for battle (age 20-60) are counted. Why count only those who are able to bear arms? God is preparing them to conquer the land promised to the descendants of Abraham. The census provides essential information for organizing battle divisions.

            1-16: Moses is told to choose a leader from each tribe. The tribes are not listed in the order of birth of the sons of Jacob. Leah’s and Rachel’s descendants are listed first and then the four tribes descended from the four sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. There seems to be a new pecking order emerging. Levi is not included in the twelve, that tribe having been claimed by God for service in the tabernacle and thus unavailable to bear arms. To keep the number at 12, the tribe of Joseph is divided in two between Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons.

20-47: Now a count of each of the twelve tribes is given, but in a slightly different order again, this time corresponding to the order of march that will be described in the next chapter.

            Here’s the count:

            Reuben          46,500

            Simeon          59,300

            Gad                45,650

            Judah             74,600 (the largest tribe)

            Issachar         54,400

            Zebulun         57,400

            Ephraim        40,500

            Manasseh     32,200

            Benjamin      35,400

            Dan                62,700

            Asher             41,500

            Naphtali        58,400

            Total:             603,550

            All the numbers end in zero, which makes them suspect as far as strict accuracy is concerned.

            48-54: The duties of the Levites are explained in some detail. They are responsible for setting up the tabernacle, taking it down and transporting it to each successive camp site. They do serve a military function as well: although the Levites will not be sent out in battle with the other tribes, they are responsible for guarding the tabernacle.

Day 119: Numbers 2

            1-2: The 10 tribes plus 2 half-tribes are divided into four groups of three to position them around the tabernacle and an “order of march” is described for when they are on the move. The names of the leaders of each tribe given here are the same as the leaders who participated in the census-taking in the last chapter, and the numbers given here correspond to the census results.

            3-9: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun camp on the east side, and are the first to break camp. These three tribes together are now referred to as the “camp of Judah.”

            10-16: The “camp of Reuben” is made up of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon and Gad, and they are to camp to the south of the tabernacle.

            17: The tabernacle, here called the “tent of meeting,” is in the center of the total encampment of all the tribes. The encampment of the Levites is in the middle, to care for the tabernacle, protected in every direction by the other tribes.

            18-24: The “camp of Ephraim”, consisting of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin are on the west. (These are the descendants of the sons of Jacob by his wife Rachel – Joseph and Benjamin.)

            25-31: The “camp of Dan,” including the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naphtali, are assigned the northern flank.

            32-34: The order of march is established.

Day 120: Numbers 3

            1-4: The sons of Aaron will become the next generation of priests, and their descendants will form the priesthood of Israel in the years to come. Eleazar and Ithamar are the two surviving sons, Nadab and Abihu having been burned to death in the tragedy described in Leviticus 10.

5-10: The tribe of Levi (Moses’ and Aaron’s tribe) except for Aaron and his descendants are claimed by God for holy service, but not for the priesthood. The priesthood belongs only to Aaron and his clan.

11-13: The Levites are given to God as substitutes for the firstborn of all Israel.

14-20: They are divided into three groups, representing the three sons of Levi (son of Jacob and Leah): Gershom, Kohath, and Merari. Each division will be given specific duties. The Levites are enrolled in a census, but this time the census is for all males from one month old and up. No reason is given for the rather extreme age range; perhaps you can think of something.

21-26: Gershom, consisting of the two clans of Libni and Shimei, totals 7500. They are to camp on the west side of the tabernacle and take care of the tabernacle structure.           

27-32:  Kohath, consisting of the clans of Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel, numbers 8600. They are to camp on the south side of the tabernacle, and their duties are to care for all the sacred furnishings. Eleazar son of Aaron is put over them, since the furnishings are used by the priests for their rituals.

33-37: Merari, the clans of Mahli and Mushi, numbers 6200. They are to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. Their duties are to care for the structural parts of the tabernacle – poles and bars and hardware.

34-39: This leaves the east side of the tabernacle to the priests – Moses and Aaron and his sons – who are responsible for all the religious rituals. So sacred are their duties that no one else may dare participate on pain of death. The total of all the Levites is given as 22,000, even though the sum of the three counts (7500, 8600 and 6200) comes to 22,300.

40-43: God tells Moses that these 22,000 will be dedicated to God’s service in place of the first-born of the other tribes. There is thus a subsequent count of the first-born of the other tribes: there are 22273 of them. (This means, by the way, that the average family had 27 male children!)

44-51: Since there are 273 more first-born than there are Levites, an accounting has to be made, and it is determined that 5 shekels each is the price to be given to the priests for those 273 not replaced by the Levites. (Perhaps you noticed that this value is considerably less than the value of 30 shekels cited for a woman between 20 and 60 back in Leviticus 27:4.) We are not told how Moses decides which 273 of the 22,273 firstborn have to pay the 5 shekels.

Day 121: Numbers 4

            1-4: God speaks to both Moses and Aaron now (at verses 1 and 21). The instructions in this chapter have specifically to do with the tabernacle servants.

A separate census is ordered of the Kohath division of Levites between the ages of 30 and 50. This is the age at which the more important priestly duties are undertaken. Of course, Gershon and Merari are also numbered separately.

            5-15: Meticulous instructions are given for moving the tabernacle. Only the priests, the sons (and future descendants) of Aaron, may touch the most holy things within the most holy place – the ark, the lamp stand, the incense altar, etc. – and are to carefully cover each item in a specific way. Once everything is covered the Kohathites are the ones among the Levites who will carry it to the next camp.

            16: Eleazar is Aaron’s son who is appointed to be in charge of the operation.

            17-20: The Kohathites are to be extremely careful not to look upon or directly touch any of the most holy things or they will die. It is not that they will be punished by execution, but that the act of getting too close to God is fraught with danger unless one is consecrated (ordained) to do so.

            The specific tasks of the Gershonites are set forth. Basically they are responsible for the curtains and other things that make up the roof and walls of the tabernacle.

29-33: The Merarites are assigned the structural elements of the tabernacle – clasps and hooks and poles and such.

34-37: Kohath has 2750 men 30 to 50 years old.

38-41: Gershon has 2630.

            42-45: Merari has 3200.

            46-49: Altogether there are 8580 Levites available for service in the tabernacle in the wilderness. (This time the numbers add up correctly.)

Day 122: Numbers 5:

            1-4: “Unclean” persons are to be quarantined outside the camp to prevent contamination of others.     

            5-11: Crimes against one’s neighbor are to be confessed and restitution is to be made. It is important to note that when you do wrong to someone else you are “breaking faith with the LORD.” If the person whom you have wronged has died or is otherwise unavailable the restitution is made to next of kin. If the next of kin is not available restitution is to be made to the priest.

            12-31: This section unwinds an elaborate way of testing a wife who is suspected of adultery. While this contains elements that seem barbaric to us, the lengthy and involved process probably does more to protect the well-being of the wife than has been the case heretofore. I don’t know how the “test” could work except as a psychological intimidation of the woman. It would seem that a person with no conscience could beat the test, while someone of a nervous nature could never pass it no matter how innocent – not too unlike early models our modern day electronic lie detectors. Yet, it is remarkable that the jealous husband’s word is not simply taken at face value. The test is as much a test of him as it is of her.

            Although the end of the chapter implies that the husband gets off scot free if he commits adultery, this is not the case for we learned in Leviticus that adultery carries the death penalty for both parties (Leviticus 20:10).

Day 123: Numbers 6

            1-21: Most of chapter 6 has to do with a particular kind of vow called the “nazarite” vow. It is from a Hebrew word (nazar) which means to be separate or consecrated. By taking such a vow an ordinary Israelite can become holy like the priests – set apart for God’s service. It is doubtful that they can assume any duties in the tabernacle, however. I suspect such vows are similar in purpose to our fasting vows during Lent, but with much stricter provisions.

            Three things are required of the person who takes such a vow: 1) they cannot consume wine or any other product from the grape; 2) they cannot cut their hair; and 3) they cannot touch a corpse, even of a family member. To do any of these things nullifies their vow and requires them to make an offering, shave their head, and start over again.

            At the end of the period of time vowed (it is not clear who sets the length of time – a priest or the individual making the vow), certain sacrifices are required and the head is shaved, and then the person is returned to normal life inside the camp.

            There are some examples also in the OT of people who were permanent nazarites – Samson, for example, and Samuel. Paul in the New Testament seems to have made a similar vow in Acts 21.

            22-27: It is not readily apparent why this instruction is placed at this particular point in the narrative, unless the “Aaronic blessing,” as it has come to be called, is originally intended as part of the ritual that completes the nazarite vow. In other words, the text may intend that Aaron should use this specific blessing for those Israelites who have completed a vow and not as a general blessing as we use it today. Such a formal blessing would certainly be a fitting way to acknowledge the personal discipline of one who has completed the requirements of the nazarite vow, especially if the length of time the person has observed the restrictions has been set by a priest.

Day 124: Numbers 7

            1-9: The leaders of the 12 tribes (10 tribes plus the two half-tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim) donate 6 wagon teams, each consisting of a covered wagon (probably not a Conestoga) and two oxen to pull it, to the service of the tabernacle. This seems to be a spontaneous act on their part, not one ordered by Moses. The wagons and oxen are divided between the Gershom and Merari divisions. The Kohath division, being responsible for the most holy things which must be carried on the shoulders, didn’t get any oxen or carts. The Kohathites would sing a little song as they trudged along with their heavy burdens, a popular little ditty called, “Oh, to be a Gershonite.” (This is a joke.)

10-11: When the time comes for the dedication of the altar, the leaders of the tribes are to each present an offering each day.

Big tip: You don’t have to read this whole chapter: just read verses 1-18, and then read 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, 60, 66, 72, 78, and finally 84-89. The 5 verses you skip each time are exactly the same as verses 13-17.

            12-88: the leaders make offerings for the dedication of the tabernacle and the cleansing of the tribes. They are:

Nahshon of Judah

Nethanel of Issachar

Eliab of Zebulun

Elizur of Reuben

Shelumiel of Simeon

Eliasaph of Gad

Elishamah of Ephraim

Gamaliel of Manasseh

Abidan of Benjamin

Ahiezer of Dan

Pagiel of Asher

Ahira of Naphtali

            These are the same leaders appointed in chapter 1 to conduct the census. But note that the order here is the same as that given in chapter 3: Judah seems to have assumed a leadership status among the 12 tribes. Each of them brings:

            1 silver plate weighing 130 shekels (a shekel is roughly ½ ounce)

            2 silver basin weighing 70 shekels – both full of choice flour mixed with oil for a grain offering

            3 golden dishes weighing ten shekels full of incense

            4 young bulls, 1 ram, and 1 male lamb a year old for a burnt offering

            1 male goat for a sin offering

            And for the sacrifice of well being; 2 oxen, 5 rams, 5 male goats, and 5 male lambs a year old.

The totals are given in verses 84-88. Each tribe brings the same gifts, regardless of the size of the tribe.

             Verse 89: this very curious verse tells us that Moses would go into the “tent of meeting,” presumably the tabernacle, where he would hear the “Voice” speaking to him from between the two golden cherubim on the ark of the covenant. This verse has been given all sorts of bizarre interpretations, including the wild suggestion that Moses was paranoid schizophrenic, and the even wilder one that the ark was a communications device placed by alien beings from another world! But what is recorded here is simply what was already said in Exodus 25:21-22: God tells Moses that he will speak with him from between the cherubim above the ark. Numbers 7:89 simply assumes that happens.

Day 125: Numbers 8

            1-4: Moses commands Aaron to set the menorah in the most holy place (behind the curtain in front of the ark of the covenant) to provide light for the priests to do their work each day of replacing the bread of the presence, replenishing the lamps with oil, burning incense and so forth.

            5-22: The Levites are set apart and purified for service in the tabernacle. First they are shaved and bathed. Then all the Israelites lay their hands on the Levites to present them as an offering, and then the Levites offer bulls for sin and burnt offerings. This is not the same as the ordination and consecration of priests done earlier. Levites can carry the tabernacle, set it up and take it down and do the work of maintaining it, but Levites cannot handle the sacred objects except to move them to a new camp and then only when they have been properly wrapped by the priests, nor can they officiate at the altar nor actually enter the sanctuary for service.

            23-26: The age limits for the Levites is set at ages 25-50. This is different from the accounting done earlier when the census counted those aged 30-50 but no reason is given for the difference.

Day 127: Numbers 10

            1-10 A system of summoning is put in place. Two silver trumpets are fabricated to use in calling the people to the tabernacle, much like church bells in 19th century American villages. The trumpets are used for summoning all the people or just the leaders; they are used to blow “alarms” to alert the people that camp is being broken; they are used to summon troops to battle; and they are used to signal the beginning of festivals. The idea of the trumpet blast to signal the end of the world likely comes from these verses.

            11-36 After having camped for nine months at Mt. Sinai they set out across the wilderness. They arrive there in Exodus 19:1. The nine months at Mt. Sinai take up nearly 59 chapters of the Bible – about one chapter for every 5 days. Aren’t you glad they didn’t stay there 5 years! Their movement is reported in some detail:

  1. The cloud lifts from over the tabernacle (vs. 11). This is on the 20th of Nisan – the “unclean” folks permitted to celebrate the Passover a month later than usual finish the seven day observance exactly on this day.
  2. They set out in stages – first the tribes that are camped on the east, then the Gershon and Merari divisions of the Levites carrying the tabernacle; then the tribes on the south; then the Kohathites carrying the most holy things (they are at the center of the entourage, the place which affords the most protection); then the tribes on the north, then the tribes on the west.
  3. Moses makes a contract with Hobab, his brother-in-law, to journey with them (verses 25-32). Hobab is familiar with the territory and will provide invaluable guidance. But wait, wasn’t the cloud and the fire to do that? It would seem that God helps those who help themselves.
  4. They journey for three days (sound familiar?) and camp in the wilderness of Paran a bit north and east of Mt. Sinai.
  5. The chapter ends with the prayers Moses is to utter when they start out, inviting God to go before them, and when they camp again, inviting God to return to the tabernacle.

They are finally on the move. The next 39 years will take 60 chapters to record; about one chapter for every 237 days. Clearly their experiences at Mt. Sinai comprise the formative stage of Israel’s development as a faith community.

Day 128: Numbers 11

            Numbers 11 begins a series of three “complaint stories.”

            1-3: Immediately upon departure from Mt. Sinai, the people begin to complain. The complaint is not specified other than it is about their “misfortunes”. A fire breaks out in the “outlying parts” of the camp and people die. It is not hard to imagine a fire spreading through a tent village, but the emphasis on outlying parts of the camp seems to be designed to demonstrate that God’s power and the obligation to follow God’s laws are not functions of distance from the tabernacle. God’s power extends beyond the tabernacle.

            4-15: They have moved from Taberah to Kibroth-Hattaaveh (see verse 34), and some of them complain that they have no meat. (What happened to all the animals?) They are tired of manna, although this is only the second time manna is mentioned. The exchange between Moses and God in verses 10-15 is remarkable. Moses challenges God in a way that no one else in the Bible dares. It is much more direct and demanding, for example, than Abraham’s argument with God to spare Sodom.

            16-23: God tells Moses to summon 70 elders before the “tent of meeting.” In this case the “tent of meeting” does not seem to be the tabernacle but another location outside or on the outskirts of the camp (see verse 26 where it is said that two men did not go “out to” the tent, and verse 30 where they all return to the camp from the tent). God tells Moses that the people will eat meat until it runs out their nostrils. Moses is flabbergasted and wonders how that much meat can possibly be provided. I am reminded of the story of Jesus telling his disciples to feed the multitudes and them responding, “Where are we to get enough to feed this crowd?”

            24-30: The spontaneous worship of the 70 is uncontrolled but doesn’t last long. It spills over into the camp into two leaders who for some unstated reason are not present at the meeting. They, too, are touched by the Spirit and begin to prophesy. Somebody runs to tell Moses and Joshua thinks the two men should be silenced, but Moses says to let them be. The story illustrates the conflict that often arises between organized religion and spontaneous worship.

            31-34: Quails come into the camp – some sort of mass migration, perhaps – and the people eat until they are sick and many of them die. That can happen with improperly cooked fowl. Maybe the message has to do with what happens when we are not satisfied with the modest blessings God sometimes provides. God sends manna, the people demand meat, God relents, and the meat makes them sick.

            Verse 35: They move camp again, from Kibroth-hattaavah to Hazeroth.

Day 129: Numbers 12

            1-9: This is the third complaint since they left Sinai. The first complaint was by “the people” (11:1). The second complaint came from “the rabble among them” (11:4). This third complaint, however, is from Moses’ own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam. All three complaints are challenges to Moses’ leadership. In all three instances, God acts to affirm Moses as the leader.

This is the only place that mentions a Cushite wife for Moses. Zipporah, his wife since before he returned to Egypt, was a Midianite woman. Cush was the territory south of Egypt, what today is known as Upper Egypt and Ethiopia. It may be that their opposition to her reflects some prejudice against everyone from the continent of Africa whether Egyptian or not. Aaron and Miriam claim that God has spoken through them too, perhaps referring to the previous chapter when they, along with the 70 elders are given the gift of prophecy (but only temporarily). God summons the three of them to the tent of meeting, and explains the difference between prophetic speech and the conversations God has with Moses.

            12:10-16: When God departs, Miriam is leprous. Aaron appeals to Moses, Moses appeals to God, so Aaron has backed down now and acknowledged Moses’ leadership. God insists that Miriam be quarantined for 7 days (see Lev. 13:5), according to the law given earlier. They camp at Hazeroth until Miriam recovers, then move on to the wilderness of Paran, located just north and east of the center of the Sinai peninsula. See www.bibleplaces.com/wilderness.htm for pictures of the Sinai wilderness. Having solidified his leadership, in the next chapter Moses will send spies into Canaan to see what they will be facing.

Day 130: Numbers 13

            1-16: Inspired by God, Moses chooses 12 men to reconnoiter through the land of Canaan. The 12 he chooses are altogether different from the twelve leaders picked in the first chapter. I wonder if the stories of the people complaining have anything to do with the original leaders not being chosen for this honor. Perhaps, though, Moses has decided not to send the leaders since the mission would be too dangerous or too physically taxing for older men. Note that the spy from Ephraim is named Hoshea son of Nun. This is actually none other than Joshua, Moses’ successor as leader of the people (see 14:6).

            17-20: He tells them to go through the Negeb into the hill country, which will take them as far north as Hebron. He asks them to bring back specific information: Are the people who live in the land strong or weak? Are the inhabitants few or many? Is the land good or bad? Are the towns walled or open? Is the land rich or poor? Are there trees there? The information is clearly designed for military considerations.

21-25: They travel through Canaan for 40 days (the number is often used to

refer to a time of training or testing). They bring back clusters of grapes, pomegranates and figs.

26-29: They report that the land is rich in natural resources, but that the inhabitants are too strong to be challenged.

            30-33: Caleb disagrees with the others, and counsels that they immediately invade the land. The other 11 then change their story to make the territory seem almost uninhabitable and the people there like giants.

Day 131: Numbers 14

            1-4: The ill report of the spies stirs up a fourth complaint. The people are now afraid to go on to the Promised Land, and want to elect another leader and return to Egypt.

5-10:  Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua are frantic over this decision and beg the people not to turn back from what God has planned for them. You may have noticed that in the account of the spies in the last chapter nothing is said about Joshua joining Caleb in urging them to enter the land.

11-12: God is angered, and threatens to strike them with pestilence as he has on other occasions, and to disown them and make another nation his people – a threat that is new.

13-19: Moses intercedes for the people. He reasons that if God turns against them now the other nations will think God is too weak to give them the land he promised to give them. He reminds God of God’s own self revelation as a God “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

20-25: There are two accounts of God’s response to Moses’ intervention. In this first account God forgives them, but decrees that none of them will enter the Promised Land except Caleb. Joshua is not mentioned. God tells them to turn back toward the Red Sea because the Amalekites and Canaanites live in the valleys of the land they are approaching.

26-35: In this second account both Caleb and Joshua are named and excused from God’s punishment of the people. Also, those under age 20 will be spared and allowed to enter the land. They will wander in the wilderness for 40 years, corresponding to the 40 days the spies went through the land.

36-38: Also in this second account of God’s punishment of the people, the 10 contrary spies die immediately of a plague.

39-45: The people at large are not immediately punished, but then decide to go up into the land, again defying God’s orders – that they should turn back toward the Red Sea. They are driven back by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

 

Day 132: Numbers 15

            1-10: Immediately after the Israelites’ defeat during an ill-advised sortie into the land, God tells Moses to tell the people that when they come into the land, they are to observe certain rules regarding sacrifices. So without delay they have the assurance that the setback is temporary and that they will indeed still inherit the land promised to Abraham. The rules given here are similar to what we read in Leviticus 2 with slightly different provisions, perhaps relating to their future condition of living in cities and permanent settlements.

            11-16: Alien residents and non-Israelites who wish to make sacrifices are to follow the same rules as the Israelites.

            17-21: Verses 1-2 are repeated. Then a new law is given for them to observe once they have settled the land. Every season when the grain is harvested, the first batch of dough from the ground grain is to be given to the LORD (that is, to the priests).

22-31: Sin offerings are to atone for unintentional sins, whether by the congregation or by an individual. The person who intentionally ignores God’s law shall be “utterly cut off”, whether alien or native.

            32-41: These verses are no longer looking ahead to the Promised Land, but have to do with their present situation in the wilderness. First, the Sabbath law is violated by a man gathering sticks in the wilderness on the Sabbath, for which he incurs the death penalty. He is stoned to death by the whole congregation. While such swift and permanent punishment may have made the point that God’s laws and God’s demand that they be a holy people are to be taken seriously, we might wonder why death is necessary instead of, say, banishment. It would appear that the covenant agreement with God made by the community is binding on each individual, and individuals do not have a choice about whether or not to abide by it. After this incident, the people are told to mark their garments with a blue thread to remind them of the commandments of the Lord. Hopefully this provision will prevent future incidents like the one with which they have just dealt.

Day 133: Numbers 16

            1-7: Another leadership crisis for Moses! This one is better organized with four primary leaders and 250 prominent men already recruited to join the mutiny. Korah, a Levite of the Kohathite division (one of the three divisions of Levites) teams up with three Reubenites, Dathan, Abiram and On. The tribe of Reuben, you will recall, has been displaced in prominence by the tribe of Judah in the arrangement of the camp as listed in chapter 2. Perhaps this explains part of their disenchantment with Moses. They confront Moses and say, “You have gone too far. All of us are just as holy as you!” Moses responds, “No, you have gone too far!” Moses tells them to come back the next day and bring censers with fire.

            8-11: Moses responds to the crisis by facing them separately. First he confronts Korah directly and upbraids him for not appreciating the duties for which he and the other Kohathites have been assigned and accuses him of seeking the priesthood for himself, thus challenging Aaron’s authority.

            12-14: Then he summons Dathan and Abiram, but they refuse to come. They accuse Moses of not doing what he promised he would do. They’re not blind, they say, and it’s obvious that they are not in a land flowing with milk and honey. They have a point.

            15-19: Moses is getting angrier and angrier, but it is interesting that he finds it necessary to defend himself to the LORD. He repeats his command to Korah to bring censers and incense to the tent of meeting on the morrow. The next day the 250 (we assume) gather with their censers as Moses has ordered.

20-22: God tells Moses and Aaron that he is going to consume the people and orders them to step aside. Moses and Aaron beg God to have mercy and not punish the whole congregation.

23-30: God relents, and orders them instead to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram (On is not mentioned after verse 1). Dathan and Abiram are not present, of course, so Moses goes to their tents and tells the people to stand back. Dathan and Abiram and their families stand in front of their tents and Moses announces that if the ground opens up and swallows them that will be God’s sign that their challenge to his leadership is an offense to God.

31-35: The ground opens up and they fall to their deaths. Their 250 followers, standing there with their burning incense pots, are burned up in a fire.

36-40: Their censers are gathered and hammered into a covering for the altar to serve as a reminder that only the descendants of Aaron can serve as priests.

            41-50: The next day the people form an angry mob and confront Moses and Aaron. A cloud covers the tent of meeting; God is angry and orders Moses and Aaron to step away so that he can destroy the whole lot of them. Moses quickly orders Aaron to make atonement for the people by burning incense in their midst, but before Aaron can do so a plague kills 14,700. The event demonstrates again that only Aaron and his descendants can serve as priests, and mediators between God and the people.

Day 134: Numbers 17

            1-7: To stem further dissension, God tells Moses to take a staff from the leader of each tribe. Aaron’s staff is to represent the tribe of Levi. The staffs are to be placed before the ark of the covenant, and one of them will sprout, thus showing which tribe God has selected for holy services. Moses collects the staffs and puts them in the most holy place as instructed.

8-11: The next day Aaron’s staff is found to have budded and bloomed and produced almonds, already ripe! Thus God demonstrates that Aaron (and his descendants) are the only ones chosen to minister in the tabernacle.

12-13: The people react with appropriate awe. It is a curious thing to me that no one is suspicious. Moses is the only one who enters the most holy place. No one else enters to see that only the staffs presented the day before are placed there and that no other staff complete with ripe almonds has already been put in place. It all sounds a bit too easy. But the end result, I suppose, is as it should be.

Day 135: Numbers 18

1-7: Surprisingly enough, to this point the LORD has spoken to Aaron directly only twice: to order him to go into the wilderness to meet Moses (Exodus 4:27); and to instruct him, following the death of Nadab and Abihu, that strong drink and holy service don’t mix (Leviticus 10:8).  Here in chapter 18 God speaks directly to Aaron 3 times (1, 8, 20), and verse 20 is the last time God will speak directly and only to him. Significantly, these instructions to Aaron come immediately after the latest attempt at rebellion which specifically targeted the priests. First, Aaron is to take further action to insure the security of the priesthood for his descendants. The Levites (Aaron’s tribe) are given to Aaron as servants; only Aaron and his sons and their descendants can attend the altar or the sanctuary. Violation of this restriction is a capital offense.

8-19: Second, God spells out in detail the way in which offerings of grain and wine and oil and meat are to be considered. The priests (Aaron and his descendants) are given this as food to compensate them for their service. This is a repetition and summary of laws already given.

20: Third, the priests are not allowed to own land (although clearly later on they do).

21-24: The Levites receive as their wages the tithes that the people bring to the tent of meeting. The people may not approach the tabernacle, only the Levites. The Levites are to serve as a buffer between God and the people.

25-32: Interestingly, in this section the LORD addresses Moses instead of Aaron. The law here sets the compensation for the priests, and it is to be a tithe of the tithe the Levites receive. In other words, the Levites receive a tithe from the people, and they in turn set aside a tithe of their income for the priests (who are also Levites, but specifically descendants of Aaron). Thus a “hierarchy of holiness” is established: people, Levites, priests, God. The text does not specify this, but it is clear that Moses fits in there between the priests and God.

Day 136: Numbers 19

            1-10: A lot of people have died in the last few chapters. Death is incompatible with God’s holiness and those who come into contact with death are temporarily suspended from being part of God’s holy people. So a way is given for the common people to deal with the contamination of death. A red heifer is to be slaughtered and burned outside the camp (the text never actually says that this ritual is carried out, only that it is commanded). Its ashes are kept, and whenever needed some of its ashes are sprinkled on water and then sprinkled on any person who has handled a dead body. In that way they are symbolically cleansed from the contamination of death.

            11-13: The idea is that whenever anyone has to handle a dead body they are ceremonially “unclean” for a week. On the third and seventh days they are to be sprinkled with the “water for cleansing” on which is sprinkled the ashes of the red heifer. Otherwise they will continue in an “unclean” state which makes it impossible for them to participate in the worship of the congregation.

            14-20: The ritual of cleansing is described again, and the repetition makes the chapter unique, for this chapter is the most complete treatment of the subject of dealing with death in the Torah. I assume that whenever the ashes were used up the procedure was repeated as needed.

            21-22: The process of dealing with the contamination of death is given as a permanent statute, but curiously is not mentioned again anywhere in Scripture.

Day 137: Numbers 20

            1: They are in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, and Miriam dies here. Nothing is said about a time of mourning for her or about funeral or burial arrangements.

            2-8: And now here is another complaint story, but a bit different from the others. The complaint is that they have no water to drink, and this time it appears to be a leaderless issue, just general griping among the people. At first they say they wish they had died at Paran (along with the 250 and the 14,700), but then they question why Moses took them out of Egypt in the first place. They complain that the land he has brought them to is not fit to grow anything. (They are right that.) Moses and Aaron pray about it and God tells Moses to take the staff and, with Aaron, to stand before a certain rock and command it to yield water.

9-13: Instead Moses says, in effect, “Watch this, you miserable wretches,” and strikes the rock twice with his staff. God declares to Moses and Aaron that, due to their lack of trust (striking the rock instead of simply commanding the water to come?), they will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Nevertheless, striking the rock did produce water.

            14-17: Moses sends envoys to the king of Edom to beg permission to pass through his territory.

18-21: The king of Edom denies them permission, sending a show of force to insure they don’t ignore him, so they have to go the long way, around Edom.

22-29: When they come to Mt. Hor Moses is commanded to bring Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of the mountain and to transfer Aaron’s priestly vestments to Eleazar. Aaron dies on Mt. Hor and Moses and Eleazar leave his body there and return to the camp. The people observe rituals of mourning for 30 days.

Day 138: Numbers 21

            1-3: The story of the defeat of Arad seems to be out of place, inserted as it is between the death of Aaron on Mt. Hor (20:27-28) and their departure from Mt. Hor in verse 4. Also, the setting of the story (in the Negeb) is further north than we should expect. There is a connection, though, with the earlier story in 14:39ff: in that story they were defeated and driven back “as far as Hormah” (14:45). In this story they are victorious and call the place Hormah (21:3), but it may not be the same location because “hormah” means “destruction” and could conceivably have been given as a name to more than one place. You may have noticed that in this story of war Moses is completely absent.

            4-9: After their successful battle against Arad they set out to go around Edom, and the people begin to gripe again. They say they don’t have food, but then they say they don’t like the food they have! Their complaint in this instance is against both Moses and God. God responds by sending an infestation of poisonous snakes, and some of the people die. They confess and repent, and Moses makes a bronze snake that has the power to heal them when they look at it. The story is the basis of the medical symbol used in hospitals today – a serpent coiled around a staff. It is also the centerpiece for one Jesus’ sayings (John 3:14).

            10-20: A travelogue is given of their journey around Edom (through which they are not allowed to pass) to the Amorite frontier.

21-32: They ask for permission to pass through the territory of the Amorites, but are turned down by King Sihon, and the Amorites attack. Israel defeats them, and settles in their towns.

33-35: They also defeat King Og of Bashan and take possession of that territory as well. Israel has now conquered and occupied a sizeable parcel of land east of the Dead Sea. Their wandering in the wilderness of Sinai actually only takes a bit more than a year, but once settled in Amorite territory it will be another 38 or so years before they cross the Jordan and enter the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.

Day 139: Numbers 22 (for Wednesday, May 19):

            Moses does not make an appearance in chapters 22, 23, or 24. This story about a foreign seer named Balaam shows that God is not confined to Israel’s camp, but is also active as far away as the Euphrates River where God intervenes in Balaam’s actions. The story of Balaam is an enigma. Not only will you see competing scenarios in the next three chapters, other mentions of Balaam in the Bible seem to recall a different tale than the one told here (see, for example, Revelation 2:14). A later story has it that Balaam is killed in Israel’s battles with the Moabites (Joshua 13:22).

            1-6: Israel is camped on the plains of Moab, and Balak the king of Moab is alarmed. He sends for a famous seer named Balaam from the region of the Euphrates River to come and curse the Israelites.

7-14: In the first round of the story God tells Balaam not to come, and Balaam refuses Balak’s invitation.

15-21: In the second round, however, God tells him to go with them.

            22-30: But then in verse 22 we are told that God is angry and tries to kill Balaam. It seems as if two completely different traditions have been wound together here. Balaam’s donkey sees the angel with the sword but Balaam does not.

31-35: After three encounters with the angel and three beatings from Balak the donkey protests, and Balaam finally sees the angel who then lets him pass, repeating God’s instructions that Balaam is to say only what God tells him to say regarding the Israelites.

            36-40: When Balaam arrives in the Moabite camp Balak is perturbed that he has not responded more readily. After all, Balak is the king of Moab, by golly. They spar for a bit, and then get down to business. Balak makes sacrifices, to what deity we are not told.

            41: Next day Balaam is taken to a knoll where he can see at least a portion of the Israelite camp.

            You should not be bothered by the talking donkey. They do that all the time.

Day 140: Numbers 23

            1-12: Balaam is brought to a place in Moab where he can see part of the people of Israel. He has Balak build seven altars and sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams. Then he goes a distance away and receives God’s word. He comes back and blesses Israel. The primary theme of this first oracle is Balaam’s inability to curse what God has not cursed. Balak is outdone, of course, at which Balaam says, “Must I not take care to say what the Lord puts into my mouth?”

            13-26: Balaam is taken to another place where the same sequence is repeated: 7 altars are built, 7 bulls and 7 rams are sacrificed, Balaam goes a distance away to consult God, comes back and blesses Israel. The primary theme of this second oracle is the trustworthiness of God’s promises.

            27-30: Balak takes Balaam to yet another place, the top of Mt. Peor, and builds 7 altars and offers 7 bulls and 7 rams. Notice that this time it does not say that Balaam is facing Israel, but rather seems to be facing the desert from which they have come. Tomorrow we’ll see what happens.

            For now, consider that the actions of this foreigner might provide a commentary on the Israelites’ inclination to curse what God has not cursed (the wilderness) and their lack of trust in God.

Day 141: Numbers 24

            1-9: This time Balaam does not go a distance away, but seems to enter into a prophetic trance. He faces not the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho where Israel is now camped (22:1), but rather turns toward the wilderness from which they have emerged. He “sees” Israel “camping tribe by tribe,” which seems to be a reference to the organization of the tribes when they were at Sinai. In this third oracle he refers to himself as “the man whose eye is open (or “clear”),” which may be a reference to a trance-like state. It could read “…whose eye is closed,” depending on whether you pronounce the Hebrew word “shatam” or “satam.” He looks to the wilderness and “sees the vision of the Almighty,” indicating that he now can see what God envisioned for Israel when they were at Sinai. At the end of verse 4 it seems that he is so overcome he falls down. In the oracle he pictures Israel becoming a powerful nation settled in a fertile land.

            10-14: King Balak has had enough. He sends Balaam home and refuses to pay him. Balaam responds by giving a “free” reading about the fate of Moab and Edom and others.

15-25: This fourth oracle looks forward as the previous one has looked back. It sees Israel eventually defeating Moab (In 2 Samuel 8 King David defeats the Moabites), Edom and other kingdoms that in the future will be enemies of Israel – Amalekites, Kenites. There is also a reference to the Assyrians (Asshur) in verses 22 and 24. So, the first two oracles demonstrate how Israel should relate to God (don’t curse what God has not cursed, trust in God), and the last two oracles gather everything up in a sweeping vision that goes from the past (the camp at Mt. Sinai) to the future (the defeat of Moab and Israel’s other enemies).

Day 142: Numbers 25

            1-5: Israel has left the wilderness, settled in the plains of Moab and taken over the towns and villages of the Amorites (21:32, 35). They begin to be assimilated into Moabite culture. They are enticed by the women of Moab to worship their gods, particularly Baal of Peor. God is angry and orders Moses to impale the leaders of the people. Moses responds by ordering the tribal leaders to kill any who have “yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.” Moses’ action is less severe than God’s command, relieving the leaders of the responsibility for their people’s actions.

            6-9: The crisis is then illustrated by a man bringing a Midianite (Moabite) woman into his house. The priest Phinehas (Aaron’s grandson, Eleazar’s son) kills both the man and his lover as they lay in their tent, impaling them with a spear. Thus Phinehas carries out God’s command more completely than Moses. In verse 8 we learn that a plague had already resulted in the death of 24,000 Israelites. We might wonder if the plague has to do with the kinds of diseases that accompany sexual promiscuity. In any case the plague is averted when the sexual misconduct is stopped by Phinehas’ action.

            10-13: Phinehas is praised for his impulsive response, and he is insured of the continuation of his family’s prominence in the priesthood of Israel.

14-15: Curiously, the name and family of both the Israelite (Zimri son of Salu) and his Midianite lover (Cozbi daughter of Zur) are given. They are both members of prominent families within their respective clans.

Day 143: Numbers 26

            1-4: Ah, another census. Apparently nearly 40 years have passed, for this is the second generation from those who left Egypt. Notice in verse 3 that Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron are the leaders now.

5-51: Here are the totals of the 12 tribes, from 20 years old and up. The previous totals from Numbers chapter 1 are in parentheses:

            Reuben: 43,730 (46,500)

            Simeon: 22,200 (59,300) The man Phinehas killed was a Simeonite: 24,000 died in the plague.

            Gad: 40,500 (45,650)

            Judah: 76,500 (74,600)

            Issachar: 64,300 (54,400)

            Zebulun: 60,500 (57,400)

            Manasseh: 52,700 (32,200) Notice that the names of Zelophehad’s daughters are listed in verse 33. They’ll turn up again.

            Ephraim: 32,500 (40,500) In the first census Ephraim was numbered before Manasseh.

            Benjamin: 45,600 (35,400)

            Dan: 64,400 (62,700)

            Asher: 53,400 (41,500)

            Naphtali: 45,400 (41,500)

            Total: 601,730 (603,550)

            52-56: The tribes will be allotted territory in the Promised Land according to the census, the larger tribes getting the larger territories.

            57-62: Levy: 23,000 (22,000) The Levites are counted from one month old and up.

            63-65: Among the twelve tribes only Joshua and Caleb remain of those who were numbered in the first census at Mt. Sinai.

Day 144: Numbers 27

            1-11: A scenario is presented to Moses concerning the daughters of Zelophehad (see 26:33). Their situation results in a refinement of the laws of inheritance. 4 new rulings apply to situations not covered in the earlier legislation: If a man who has no sons dies, the inheritance passes to his daughters; if there are no daughters, then it goes to his brothers; if no brothers, then to his uncles; if no uncles, then to next-of-kin. Still not entirely equal treatment for women, but a big step in the right direction, don’t you think?

            12-14: God announces that Moses is to die (don’t worry, he’ll be around until the end of Deuteronomy). However, he will get to see the Promised Land even though he won’t enter it. The reason has to do with the event at Meribah (20:9-13) when Moses brought water from the rock using his rod instead of Aaron’s.

            15-23: These verses address the succession of leadership when Moses is gone. Several things are of special interest. First, the idea is raised by Moses instead of God. God, for his part, already has things planned for Joshua, but it is moving that when Moses is confronted with his own end, the first thing he thinks about is the people and how they will survive. Next, notice that Joshua is not given all of Moses’ authority. When Moses is gone, the spiritual authority will pass to Eleazar. Joshua will not communicate directly with God as Moses had, but must go through the high priest. So it will be until the time of David.

Day 145: Numbers 28

            Immediately after the announcement of Moses’ successor the text turns to some rather tedious descriptions of sacrifices and offerings. It is similar to what we read in Leviticus 23, but the focus here is not so much on the offerings, but rather on the calendar – the appropriate time for offerings. The whole year is covered, days and weeks and months, with special attention given to the festivals.

            1-6: Daily sacrifices are described.

            9-10: Sabbath sacrifices, which basically double the daily ones, are outlined.

            11-15: Monthly sacrifices are enumerated, for the first day of each month.

            16-25: Special sacrifices for Passover are reiterated, to be offered from the 14th to the 21st day of the first month of the year.

            26-31: Special sacrifices related to the festival of First Fruits are explained.

            Maybe today would be a good time to think about what claim God might have on your time.

Day 146: Numbers 29

            1-6: The seventh month is especially hallowed and set apart. On the first day of the month the trumpets are blown to signify the beginning of special observances (verses 1-6) with specific offerings. It is known as the Festival of Trumpets, and the offerings appropriate for the day are described. This adds to the rather incomplete instructions given in Leviticus 23:23-25, where no offerings are specified.

            7-11: On the tenth day of the seventh month another series of offerings are specified. Curiously, the account does mention the purpose for the day: it is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 23:26-32 the nature of the observance is emphasized, but offerings are not mentioned. Here, the offerings are prescribed in some detail, but the reasons for them are not mentioned.

            12-16: The sacrifices are described which are offered each of the 8 days of the Festival of Booths (Succoth), beginning on the 15th day of the 7th month. The number of animals to be sacrificed diminishes each of the first 7 days, with a much smaller total on the 8th day. If you want to dig a little further you might compare and contrast these verses with Leviticus 23:33-43.

Day 147: Numbers 30

1-16: You ladies are not going to like this chapter very much. At least it’s only 16 verses! The two operative words here are “vow” and “pledge.” A vow is a promise to do something for God in exchange for divine assistance of some kind. A pledge is a promise to perform some act of self-denial. The first 2 verses insist that any vow or pledge made by a man is absolutely binding. The rest of the chapter has to do with vows and pledges made by married and single women. The specific rules cited here seem quaint: there are intricate provisions for determining if a vow or pledge is binding or not binding, usually depending on the agreement of the woman’s father or husband.

Day 148: Numbers 31 (May 28):

            1-12: We return to the main story line from the end of chapter 25 that has to do with the rift between Israel and Midian. God tells Moses that his last act of leadership will be the defeat of the Midianites. Notice that gradually God has been allowing Moses more and more authority to make decisions. God tells Moses to make war on the Midianites, but leaves the details up to Moses. Moses decides to commit only 1000 men from each tribe for the army. This done, he sends them into battle with Phinehas (the priest, the son of Eleazar who killed Cozbi and Zur for their sexual transgression) at their head. In verse 8 we learn that Balaam son of Beor is killed in the ensuing battle, so apparently he didn’t go home quickly enough. In this chapter Balaam is painted as an enemy of Israel whereas before he was painted as God’s instrument who could only pronounce blessings on Israel. Now, however, he is identified as the one who suggested the strategy of using the women of Midian to lure the men of Israel. The Israelites are brutally successful in the battle, killing all the Midianite men. They take the women and children as booty along with animals and valuables, and bring all of it triumphantly to Moses.

13-20: Moses, however, is angry that they have preserved the lives of the very women who have been trouble from the beginning, for they had corrupted the Israelites by enticing them to worship Baal (chapter 25).  He orders them to kill all the male children and all the women except the virgins. (God does not order the complete eradication of the inhabitants of the land, but it becomes a tactic Moses uses more than once, as we shall see.) He is also careful to order the soldiers to follow the holiness code which calls for rituals of purification after contact with death.

            21-24: Eleazar, who has succeeded Aaron as high priest, gives instructions about purifying the spoils of battle; metal objects with fire and other booty with water.

25-47: There is an elaborate accounting of the spoils of battle and an intricate system of dividing it between the soldiers, the rest of the people, and God (that is, the priests).

48-54: The officers of the army bring some of the spoil to Moses as an offering of atonement. Notice that, although they approach Moses, Moses receives it in company with Eleazar, and the two of them see to it that it is all added to the treasury. This is a subtle lesson to all who would lead a congregation: never handle the money by yourself!

Day 149: Numbers 32 (May 29):

            1-5: Three of the 12 tribes of Israel do not settle in the Promised Land of Canaan. Gad and Reuben (note that now Gad is mentioned before Reuben, and later Gad will be the primary tribe on the east side of the Jordan River) come to Moses with the request that they be allowed to settle the territory already conquered. The reason is because the land there is suitable for grazing, and they have many cattle.

            6-32: Moses is initially angry with the request, assuming that they are trying to get out of having to take part in the military campaigns that lie ahead. The two tribes assure him that if they are allowed to build towns and settle there, they will lead the other tribes in the conquest of Canaan. After some further negotiations in which their responsibilities are clarified and other elements of the community (priests, other tribal leaders) are informed, Moses grants their request.

            33-42: At the end of the chapter the half-tribe of Manasseh suddenly appears (verse 33) as a co-claimant on the eastern territories of Gilead, and are also allotted land there. The story illustrates that there is still a long way to go before Israel becomes an intact community. Intertribal disputes will arise now and then until there is a rift between the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (which become the kingdom of Judah) and the ten northern tribes (which become the kingdom of Israel).

Day 150: Numbers 33 (May 30):

            1-4: We learn that all the while Moses has been keeping a record of their wilderness wanderings, beginning with the first Passover when the first born of the Egyptians perished.

5-37: Here is the itinerary for the Israelites from Egypt to the border of Edom. Surprisingly, the crossing of the Red sea is barely mentioned and there is no mention of the miraculous rescue from the Egyptian army. The list gives the names of places where they camped in their journey across the wilderness. It does not match exactly the accounts we have read so far in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, leaving out some places and mentioning others that have not been named before. In particular, in verses 19-36 we have locations that have not been mentioned at all until now, filling in some of the history that was not recorded before. We noted earlier that there seemed to be a sudden jump from the second year of their wilderness wanderings until the 39th year. These verses fill in some of those gaps.

            38-39: Another detail is added: Aaron, whose death was recorded at the end of Chapter 20, died in the 40th year of their sojourn in the wilderness, at the ripe old age of 123.

            40: The king of Arad is mentioned almost as a footnote in the midst of the list of campsites. He had attacked Israel early on, an event recorded in 21:1-3.

            41-49: Most of the locations listed here are names we haven’t seen before, but Mr. Hor, Oboth, Iye-abarim and the plains of Moab are familiar, and echo the portion of their journey recorded in chapters 21 and 22.

50-56: The last part of the chapter points to the coming invasion of Canaan. They are given specific rules for the conduct of the wars to come:

  1. Drive out all the inhabitants of the land.
  2. Destroy their cultic symbols and sanctuaries.
  3. Take possession and settle the land.
  4. Apportion the land to each of the tribes according to the census.
  5. If you allow any of the current inhabitants to remain in the land, they will be your downfall.

Nowhere, however, does God tell them to slaughter every man, woman and child.

Day 151: Numbers 34

            1-12: The boundaries are laid out for their occupation of the Promised Land. It is a strip of land bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea (“The Great Sea” in verse 6) and on the east by the Jordan River from the Dead Sea in the south to Lake Chinnereth in the north. As for the southern and northern borders, the list of places is mostly unknown today, which makes it impossible to determine the precise boundary lines, but generally it includes the northern part of the Negeb wilderness, and the areas that will later be known as Judah, Samaria and Galilee.      

            13-15: The three tribes (Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh) that settled on the east side of the Jordan River are not to be included within the boundaries outlined here. Verse 13 specifies that the Promised Land is given to 9 ½ tribes because the 2 ½ tribes had already settled the Trans-Jordan areas. Thus the tribe of Levi would seem to be included in the allotments in the Promised Land, but we will find in chapter 35 that the Levites are not included in territorial assignments; they are given cities to inhabit scattered throughout all the territories.

16-29: The end of the chapter names new leaders for the tribes that will settle Canaan. Of course, Eleazar the high priest is of the tribe of Levi, and no other leader is named for them in this list. Eleazar the priest and Joshua are again designated as leaders to succeed Moses. Joshua is of the tribe of Ephraim: in the list of new leaders at the end of the chapter the leader of Ephraim is Kemuel (verse 24). So, Joshua’s duties as overall leader are deemed sufficient enough that he cannot also serve as a tribal leader.

Day 152 Numbers 35

1-5: The Levites cannot own land, but they can own cities. Actually, we already knew this from Leviticus 25:32-34. The situation is an enigma, though: do they own the cities, or only the houses within the cities? Do they own the pasture land around the cities, or merely grazing rights? Furthermore, verse 4 gives them the surrounding land 1000 cubits wide, and then verse 5 extends it to 2000 cubits. Perhaps the 2000 cubits is from the center of the town.

6-8: There will be 48 Levitical towns in all; six of them are to be designated “cities of refuge.”

9-15: Of the cities of refuge it is specified that three of these will be in Canaan, the other three in the trans-Jordan territories settled by Gad, Reuben and Manasseh. We wonder if the greater concentration of cities of refuge in the trans-Jordan might indicate a more violent culture there.

16-21: The cities of refuge are for the protection of “the slayer who kills a person without intent.” In such cases, the victim’s family would be expected to avenge the killing even though there may have been no criminal act involved. To protect the person responsible for the death, these cities were designated. The killer could flee to one of the cities of refuge and be safe there until a trial could be arranged and the killer either condemned or exonerated. Certain circumstances are enumerated for determining if a death is wrongful, mostly having to do with the use of deadly force. It is interesting, however, that weapons such as swords, knives, arrows and spears are not mentioned.

22-28: When the death is clearly not a murder but rather accidental, although the accused is exonerated he is forced to live in a city of refuge until the death of the high priest. This seems a bit cruel at first thought but consider that even though no evil intent was involved the slayer is still responsible for the death. Human life is holy and the shedding of blood within the community is such a serious affair that only the death of the high priest can fully atone for the spilling of blood, accidental though it may be.

29-34: Murder is not to be tolerated in any case, and no abridgements of the preceding laws are to be allowed. God is a co-inhabitant in the land, and the land must not be defiled by the spilling of blood. Remember Cain and Abel!

Day 153: Numbers 36

1-4: Some of the Law has to be clarified and amended to accommodate specific situations, and this is where the idea of case law and legal precedents begins to take shape. A situation arises that is not covered by the Law to this point. Do you remember the five daughters of Zelophehad who came to Moses concerning the disposition of their father’s estate because he had no sons to inherit it (see 27:1-11)? They were of the tribe of Manasseh, and now the leaders of that tribe approach Moses with a further complication. What if a man has no sons and leaves his land holdings to his daughters, and they in turn marry outside that tribe? The land would then be part of the other tribe’s territory and no longer part of the territory of the tribe to which it originally belonged. So we once again meet the daughters of Zelophehad; Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah. They stand to inherit their father’s land because they have no brothers (chapter 27:5-11). However, if they should subsequently marry into another tribe, say, Benjamin, their land would then belong to Benjamin instead of to Manasseh, and those two tribal territories are not even adjacent to each other.

5-12: So, another amendment is made to the laws of inheritance: if a daughter inherits an estate, she must marry within her own tribe. We are told that Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah did just that.

13: And so, with these gnarly little conundrums about property settled (they don’t even own any property yet, you know), the book of Numbers ends.

You have now read 4 complete books of the Bible. That is only 6% of the books in the Bible, but it represents fully 13% of the chapters of the Bible. You should feel good about that accomplishment!

Leviticus 1 (day 91)

            1-2: But the Israelites won’t actually leave Mt. Sinai until the 12th chapter of the book of Numbers. There are lots more rules to cover and lots more arrangement to be made before they are ready to continue their journey. The book of Leviticus is that book of rules. The first rules to be covered have to do with the kinds of offerings the people may bring. Animal offerings are divided into two categories; those that come from the herd (bulls) and those that come from the flock (goats and sheep). It is said that these laws are given to Moses by the LORD at the tent of meeting, not at the tabernacle, although there is increasingly some confusion between the two.

            3-9: Offerings from the herd must be of a male with no obvious injuries or defects. It is brought to the entrance of the tent, where the priests (Aaron’s sons for now) slaughter it and sprinkle some of its blood against all four sides of the altar. The owner lays his hand on its head while it is being slaughtered as a visible sign that it is his offering and it is accepted by the priests for his atonement. The priests butcher the carcass, separating out and washing its entrails and legs while a fire is being built on the altar. Then the entire animal is burned on the altar. It is (to them, at least) a pleasing odor, and they imagine that God considers it so as well.

            10-13: A sheep or goat may be offered following the same process except that an offering from the flock is to be made on the north side of the altar.

            14-17: Two kinds of birds may be offered: turtledoves and pigeons. The bird’s head is removed by the priest and burned on the altar. Its blood is drained against the side of the altar. Its innards are removed and thrown onto the ash heap. Then it is torn apart by its wings and burned on the altar. I would not want to be a bird.

Leviticus 2 (day 92)

            1-3: We enter the kinder, gentler world of grain offerings. Whereas the animal sacrifice is for atonement – to make oneself right with God – the grain offering is more along the lines of thanksgiving. It is also a prayer for crops to thrive. The grain is ground into flour, mixed with oil and an aromatic resin called frankincense, and brought to the priest. The priest takes a handful of it and burns it on the altar. The rest is for the priests’ pantry.

            4-10: Baked or fried cakes or wafers may also be presented as offerings. They are spread with oil and brought to the priest. The priest burns a token portion of it on the altar and keeps the rest for the pantry.

            11-13: Some additional rules for grain offerings: leavening or yeast must never be used, but they must always use salt. In this way each grain offering becomes a reminder of their rescue from slavery in Egypt and the Passover meal they ate on the night of the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians.

            14-16: Rough grain just harvested may also be offered as an offering of first fruits without grinding it into flour. It is offered with oil and frankincense (and presumably salt as well) just as the other grain offerings. We might wonder, of course, where they are to harvest grain in the Sinai wilderness. The answer is that many of the laws given in Leviticus will not apply until they have settled in the land of Canaan.

Leviticus 3 (day 93)

            1-5: The offering of well-being is described. Think of this as a thanksgiving for God’s blessings and/or as a petition for continued or renewed blessings. This offering may be of a male or female animal, unblemished of course, of the flock or the herd. If it is of the herd the animal is brought to the entrance of the tent. In this case it seems pretty clear that the owner himself slaughters the animal. The priests dash its blood against the four sides of the altar. The owner then butchers the animal and gives the priests the fat from the abdomen along with the kidneys and liver and these are burned on the altar. The disposition of the remainder of the carcass is not specified here.

            6-11: Offerings of well-being from the flock may be of either goat or sheep, male or female. The sheep sacrifice is the same as what was described for the cattle sacrifice, except it is specified that the tail of the sheep (which contains a great deal of fatty tissue) is to be offered along with the other fatty portions.

            12-16: If a goat is offered, the procedure is identical to that of the cattle offering.

            17: Neither the fat nor the blood is to be eaten from any sacrifice. If an animal is sacrificed to the LORD, the blood is to be poured out after some of it is dashed against the altar, and the fat is to be burned on the altar.

            All of this, of course, sounds strange to our ears. Animals, however, represented the wealth of the family. Even today we offer our wealth to the LORD; it is just that we have converted our wealth into paper before we bring it to the altar. We should, however, recover the attitude with which these animal sacrifices were made: It is given in trust that God is involved in and in charge of every aspect of life on earth.

Leviticus 4 (day 94)

            1-2: This next section (4:1-5:13) covers the so-called “sin offerings,” which are made for the purpose of atoning for unintentional sins. Intentional sins are not atoned for by sacrifices, but by punishment.

            3-12: If a priest commits an unintentional sin – that is, unintentionally does what is not supposed to be done (no specific examples are given) – he must bring an unblemished bull ox to the entrance of the tabernacle, place his hand on its head and slaughter it (by slitting its throat). He is to collect the blood in a bowl and carry it into the tent where some of it is sprinkled seven times on the ground in front of the curtain hiding the most holy place, some is dabbled on the horns of the little incense altar, and the rest of it brought back outside and poured at the base of the large altar of burnt offering. The bull is butchered and all the fatty parts removed and burned on the altar. The rest of the animal is carried outside the camp and burned on a wood fire at the ash heap – the camp’s garbage dump. In other words, the choice parts are offered to God while the defiled or common parts are removed from the camp, thus representing the removal of the effects of the priest’s sin from the people.

            13-21: If the congregation errs unintentionally (again no example is given) the same procedure is followed except that the elders place their hands on the bull ox as it is slaughtered and a priest carries out the blood ritual and the sacrifice on the altar and the removal of the remainder of the carcass.

            22-26: This paragraph covers the sin offering of a ruler. “Ruler” is not defined and we are left to wonder to whom, aside from Moses, this may refer. The sin offering is different in this case. As soon as the sin is discovered the ruler brings a male goat to the altar and lays his hands on its head while it is slaughtered. The blood is not taken into the tent, but a priest smears some of it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pours the rest on the ground. The fatty portions of the goat are burned on the altar, but no mention is made of carrying the rest of the carcass outside the camp. Perhaps the symbolism is that if a ruler sins the ruler can be forgiven but the effects of the sin are never really removed from the people.

            27-31: If an ordinary citizen commits an unintentional breach of the Law the same process is followed as with the ruler except that the animal to be sacrificed in this case is a female goat.

            32-35: Alternatively, in the case of a common citizen, a female sheep may be brought rather than a female goat.

Leviticus 5 (day 95)

            1-6: An odd assortment of examples is given. The first is the case of someone who has refused to come forward with evidence. It is hard to imagine how such a circumstance could be an “unintentional” sin, and indeed the text says that such a one is “subject to punishment.” The second case is of one who has unknowingly come into contact with a dead thing; such a one is “unclean” and “guilty.” The third case is of one who touches any kind of “human uncleanness.” This can be touching a dead body, or the blood of menstruation, or handling human waste; but again it is hard to imagine how this can happen “unknowingly.” In this third case the party is apparently not “guilty” until the transgression is pointed out to him or her. The fourth case is of one who “utters aloud a rash oath” unknowingly (?!). Once the offense is made known to that one, he or she becomes guilty. These four scenarios are offered as examples of the kinds of things that might prompt someone to bring a sin offering to the altar. The sin offering can be a female sheep or goat, and the procedure is followed that was described earlier (4:27-35).

            7-10: But what if the offending person has no flocks from which to bring a sin offering? Well, then he or she may bring two doves or two pigeons. The priest offers the first as a sin offering (for the person’s forgiveness) and the second as a burnt offering (as an act of renewed allegiance to the LORD).

            11-13: But what if you cannot bring even two birds? In such a case it is sufficient to bring a measure of flour, a portion of which the priest shall burn on the altar.

            14-16: I can make little sense out of this paragraph. It seems at first to be another example of how to deal with an unintentional sin, but this time the offering is a ram (a male sheep). Its value is computed according to prevailing standards and the owner of the ram apparently gives the priest money equal to 120% of the value of the ram. Either that, or the ram is sacrificed and the 20% (1/5) is given to the priest. But why a male sheep instead of female as listed in every other case? And is the animal actually slaughtered or only redeemed by paying the priest for its value plus 1/5? And what is the nature of the offense that is different from the other cases already enumerated?

            17-19: This paragraphs seems to be a repetition of the last one but I can think of no reason why it should be repeated, and I can find here nothing to distinguish the situation described from the one before. At times the Bible can be a most curious book.

Leviticus 6 (day 96)

            1-7: This paragraph deals with cheating one’s neighbor. Again it seems the emphasis is on doing the thing unintentionally because the law applies when one realizes one’s guilt.  The value of the thing taken + 20% is the specified fine to be paid to the one wronged, and then for atonement the male sheep is sacrificed.

            8-13: Here are rules about regular offering and sacrifices and the perpetual fire that is to be kept in the altar – a symbol of the abiding presence of God, although it is hard to imagine how it could be kept when they are on the move. The priest is required to dress in his linen undergarments and vestments when the ashes are removed from the altar in the morning, then to change into “ordinary” clothing to remove the ashes to a site outside the camp. This notion of holy dress to honor God is carried over today in the practice of many congregation to come to worship dressed in one’s “Sunday clothes.”

            14-18: The provision for the priests is reiterated concerning grain offerings. A portion of the offering is to be eaten by the priests, but only within the tabernacle; holy food must be eaten in the holy place. The priests themselves are deemed to be holy, and therefore anything that touches them (or that they touch?) becomes holy. This idea will result in excesses on the part of unscrupulous priests down the road.

            19-23: If a priest brings a grain offering, it has to be entire consumed by fire on the altar. When a priest is ordained, he is to prepare the grain offering personally, baking it with oil on a griddle. This is in keeping with the overall idea of the priests being set apart for God.

            24-30: These verses present the rules about sin offerings made by the priests, and specify what may be eaten by whom and where.

Leviticus 7 (day 97)

1-6: We repeat the procedure for the guilt offering, this time specifically in reference guilt offerings made by the priests. The priests are not exempted from making atonement and restitution.

            7-10: The priests’ compensation package is covered here, at least as much as it has to do with feeding the priests. The priest on duty gets to eat the specified part of each burnt offering, meat and grain. However, every other grain offering is divided equally between all the priests, not just the one who happens to be on duty at the time.

            11-18: Another kind of offering is covered here; the well-being offering, which may be given as a thanksgiving offering or as a votive, or free-will, offering, made simply because the person wishes to do so out of esteem for the LORD. The disposition of the sacrifices – the parts to be burned, eaten, or discarded – follows the pattern described before.

            19-21: Here we learn of meat that has become unclean, and the punishment that accrues to those who eat such meat. They shall be “cut off from their people.” I think this is the first occurrence of that phrase. The exact meaning of it is not clear, and guesses range from excommunication to execution.

            22-27: It is forbidden to eat fat or blood, and anyone who does is subject to being “cut off.” This is a curious regulation to our way of thinking, but in their culture the blood was God’s life-gift, and the fat was the choicest part of the animal.

            28-36: Meticulous rules govern the sacrifice of well-being as with the other kinds of sacrifices. As before, the thigh and breast of well-being sacrifices are given to the priest who makes the offering.

            37-38: These verses summarize the types of sacrifices treated thus far.

Leviticus 8 (day 98)

            1-5: The time has come to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests. The ritual specified in Exodus 29 is closely followed.

6-9: First, Moses washes Aaron and his sons, and then he clothes Aaron with tunic, sash, robe, ephod, breastpiece, turban, and crown.

10-13: He anoints the tabernacle and everything in it 0with oil, and then anoints Aaron. Then he brings Aaron’s sons forward and dresses them.

14-17: A sin offering is made for them by Moses, following the prescribed procedure.

18-21: Then a burnt offering, a ram, is brought forward. Aaron and his sons place their hands on its head and it is sacrificed according to God’s instructions.

22-29: The second ram is the offering of ordination. The blood of the ordination ram is placed on Aaron’s right ear, right thumb, and right big toe, then the sons get the same treatment (Exodus 29:19-21). Aaron and his sons are then given a thigh from the sacrifices, and a grain cake, which they raise on high. The grain and thigh is burned on the altar (Exodus 29:22-25). The breast is given to Moses.

30: Aaron and his sons are consecrated with the anointing all and the blood of the sacrifice.

31-36: Moses gives the remainder of the meat and bread to Aaron and his sons and tells them to eat it inside the enclosure. They cannot leave the tabernacle, he says, for 7 days, and the sacrifices are to be repeated each day.

Leviticus 9 (day 99)
             1-7: After seven days of ordination sacrifices and rituals Moses announces that God is going to appear to them on the eighth day. More sacrifices are brought: a male calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering for Aaron; a male goat as a sin offering, a yearling calf and a yearling lamb for burnt offerings, an ox and a ram for offerings of well-being, and a grain offering, all for the people. Moses orders Aaron to sacrifice all the animals. The combination of offerings for Aaron and for the people signifies that Aaron will be their high priest, and his priesthood will be thus inaugurated.
             8-11: Aaron slaughters his sin offering. His sons present the blood to him, which he applies according to established order. The fatty parts he burns on the altar and the rest of the animal he burns outside the camp.
             12-14: Then he slaughters his burnt offering, burning all of it on the altar according to established procedure.
             15-17: Next he slaughters the people’s sin offering and burnt offering and sacrifices them, then their grain offering. This is going to take all day, isn’t it?
             18-21: Finally he slaughters the offerings of well-being according to instructions.
             22-24: Everybody is waiting for God to show up. Aaron turns and blesses the people. Then he and Moses go inside the tent of meeting. What did they do in there? They come out and again bless the people, and finally it happens: fire shoots out from the LORD (from the tent?) and consumes what is left of the sacrifices on the altar. The people shout (wouldn’t you?) and fall on their faces. But nobody asks what Moses and Aaron did in the tent just before the fire shot out.

Leviticus 10 (day 100)
             1-3: Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, are tragically burned to death while burning incense in the tabernacle. Their death is attributed to their having offered “unholy fire before the LORD,” a phrase that is difficult to understand, but may mean no more than that they don’t follow the prescribed procedure (which probably includes certain safety factors, one of which we will see a few verses down) and disaster follows. Aaron is poised to complain, as would any father, but Moses stays him by pointing out that through their death God is somehow glorified.
             4-7: Moses orders two of his and Aaron’s first cousins, Mishael and Elzaphan, to carry the bodies outside the camp. No burial is mentioned, which makes me wonder if they aren’t so badly burned that no burial is needed. Moses allows the family and the congregation to mourn, but Aaron and his two remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, are not permitted to assume the visible signs of mourning (torn clothes and disheveled hair), and are not permitted to leave the tabernacle. Their duty as God’s servants is to take precedence over their grief.
             8-11: The LORD tells Aaron that he and his sons must not drink wine or other alcoholic beverages when they go into the tent of meeting. The reason for this rule is not given, but is likely related to the incident that causes the death of Nadab and Abihu. It could be that they were drinking on the job while playing with fire – a dangerous mixture indeed.
             12-15: Moses issues a ruling regarding the priests’ portions of the sacrifices and where it is to be eaten. He rules that the unleavened grain offering is to be eaten within the enclosure where the altar of burnt offering is located. The meat portions may be shared with their families in any “clean place.” Moses’ callous refusal to acknowledge Aaron’s grief is striking to me.
             16-20: But now something happens to make Moses a little more caring. He discovers that the sacrifice of the goat for the sin offering has not been properly carried out. The portion that was to have been eaten by Aaron and his sons was burned on the altar instead. Moses is angry with Eleazar and Ithamar. Aaron’s response is that it would not have been right for them to have eaten the sin offering because it is a day of mourning for them. Moses is mollified and lets the matter drop.

Leviticus 11 (day 101)

            1-8: The list of “clean” and “unclean” animals seems to have no rhyme or reason other than as a way to make God’s people different from everybody else. Camels, badgers, rabbits and pigs are unclean. Go figure.

            9-12: Likewise, fish with fins and scales are “clean,” but every other aquatic creature is “unclean.”

            13-19: The list of “unclean” birds is extensive, but no rules are laid out to explain why. The birds on the list don’t seem to have any characteristics in common.

            20-23: Grasshoppers and their kin are the only insects they are permitted to eat, although why anyone would want to eat a locust is beyond me. Insects, of course, have six legs rather than four according to modern taxonomy, but the two forelegs of grasshoppers are small and ineffectual for jumping.

            24-28: Anyone who happens to come into contact with the carcass of an “unclean” animal is just as “unclean” as the animal, but only until sundown.

            29-38: The list of “unclean” creatures that crawl is given. I can’t imagine eating any of them anyway. There follows a complicated and curious set of rules about what to do with objects touched by the carcass of an unclean creature. However, the idea that some things can contaminate others is basic to our modern understanding of diseases, isn’t it?

            39-40: Now here’s a curious thing. If you touch the carcass of a “clean” animal you’re still unclean until sunset. You can eat it, though! But if you eat it you have to wash your clothes and be “unclean” until sunset. However, if you kill the beast and cook it and eat it, you apparently aren’t considered “unclean.” Still, while these rules seem artificial to us I suppose it is necessary to have some way of knowing what to do in various situations so that you don’t violate the covenant.

            41-45: You can’t eat snakes or houseflies. That’s okay with me.

            46-47: So, God’s people are given instructions about the diet they are to follow, and in that way they are set apart from other people in the world and are readily identified as people of the covenant.

Leviticus 12 (day 102)

            1-5: Since blood and the shedding of blood carries all kinds of spiritual repercussions, special attention has to be given to the monthly menstrual cycles of women and the bloody discharge that accompanies childbirth. In the case of the birth of a male child, she is to be regarded as “unclean,” meaning that she cannot enter the courtyard of the tabernacle or handle things dedicated for sacred use. The period of uncleanness is to last for seven days. On the eighth day the child is to be circumcised, thus marking him as one of God’s people but also curtailing the length of her prescribed purification. She is to stay away from the tabernacle and things dedicated for sacred use for another 33 days, making her time of ritual “uncleanness” a total of 40 days. The number 40 symbolizes the time required for life transitions toward some fulfillment of God’s will. If the birth is of a female child the time of purification is doubled, perhaps because in that case no blood is shed by circumcision.

            6-8: When the prescribed length of time is completed she is to bring a burnt offering (a yearling lamb) and a sin offering (a pigeon or dove) which the priest will offer as a sacrifice for her atonement and thus provide the community a visible sign that her time of uncleanness is ended. If she cannot afford the lamb, a bird will suffice. Thus Mary, mother of Jesus, presents “a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:24). Mary and Joseph could not afford a yearling lamb.

Leviticus 13 (day 103)

            1-8: Illnesses, especially the kinds that leave visible marks, are a source of particular concern for the people. Ancient people saw a connection between skin diseases on the one hand and mildew and fungus in buildings and other surfaces on the other hand. Leprosy and various other maladies are treated here. It is a tedious chapter unless you’re interested in medical things. Rashes and other skin eruptions are to be treated with the greatest of care lest it proves to be a contagious disease that can be devastating to the community. Specific instructions are spelled out for the examination of such ailments and the sufferer is quickly quarantined in case the condition is contagious.

            9-17: The rationale for the diagnosis escapes me. Nevertheless, it is a way of protecting the community from diseases that can be contained. The designation of “clean” or “unclean” have to do with participation in the worship life of the people. Once it is certain that the person is leprous they need not be confined, but they cannot enter the tabernacle court.

            18-23: A boil that bursts and results in scarring the skin is seen a cause for pronouncing one “unclean.”

            24-28: The priest has a great deal of power over individuals in the camp because he is given the authority to pronounce whether a person is “clean” or not. These rules help insure that the priest does not wield that authority entirely arbitrarily.

            28-37: Skin irritations occurring on the scalp or beneath the beard require special attention.

            38-39: A mere rash is seen as harmless.

            40-44: If a person goes bald, the priest is called for an examination to see if he or she is “clean” or “unclean,” depending on the condition of the skin that has been exposed in the bald area.

            45-46: Here are the rules governing the “unclean” person’s participation in the community. He or she must wear clothing that readily identifies him or her as being “unclean,” must cover his or her upper lip when out and about in the camp, and must call out that he or she is unclean so that others may keep a respectable distance. He or she must also live outside the main camp; such places will be known as “leper colonies.”

            47-52: Mold or mildew is considered to be as debilitating to an article of clothing as leprosy is to a person. The priest puts the garment aside for a week to see if the discoloration spreads. If it does the item must be burned.

            53-55: If after a week the area is no larger, the item is washed. If that doesn’t get rid of the discoloration, the article is burned.

            56-59: That stained article of clothing receives more scrutiny than an albino alligator. I suppose in their setting clothing is not all that easy to come by, so they have to take extra care that all is well.

Leviticus 14 (Day 104)

            1-9: While chapter 13 has to do mostly with diagnosis, this chapter moves on to specify the rituals of purification for skin diseases and what they considered similar maladies in articles of clothing and in the walls of houses – what we would probably call mold and mildew. A man or woman who has been pronounced by the priest to be “clean” of leprosy has to undergo a public ritual to demonstrate their new condition. They are taken out of the camp (actually, if they have been pronounced “unclean” they are already out of the camp) and examined by the priest. If they are “clean,” two birds are brought (the text doesn’t say who is responsible for purchasing the birds) along with a block of cedar, a length of crimson yarn and a branch of hyssop (a shrub that grows in arid conditions). One of the birds is to be slaughtered over a clay bowl of fresh water. The other bird, the cedar and the hyssop are dipped in the bloody water and the subject is sprinkled with it seven times. Then the priest pronounces the subject to be “clean” and the living bird is released. The subject is to wash his or her clothes and shave off all his or her hair and bathe. He or she can then return to the camp, but not to his or her tent. He or she must wait seven days, shave again, wash his or her clothes and bathe again, and that does the trick.

            10-20: But not completely. The next day the subject must bring two male and one female yearling lambs, a grain offering and a “log” of oil to the priest, who presents all of it at the tent of meeting. One of the lambs is slaughtered for a guilt offering. The subject’s ear lobe, thumb and big toe are dabbled with the blood and also with the oil. The rest of the oil is put on the subject’s head. Then another lamb is slaughtered for a sin offering. It is very difficult to be restored to full participation in the community if you ever have the misfortune of being diagnosed with leprosy.

            21-32: If the subject is poor, only one male lamb need be brought, along with two pigeons or doves and a grain offering with oil. The lamb is slaughtered for a guilt offering. The blood and oil are dabbled on the subject. The birds are offered, one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering.

            33-42: Once they settle in the land and move into houses built with stones, certain procedures are specified should mold or mildew be found in a house.

            43-47: If that doesn’t do the trick the house is to be torn apart and hauled out to the city dump.

            48-57: If, upon further inspection the house remains free of the mold and mildew, a ritual is prescribed by which two birds are offered as sacrifices to signify that the house is okay to live in once again. Such are the rules when a person or a house or clothing is found to be infested with a “leprous” condition.

 

Leviticus 15 (day 105)

            1-12: Laws governing purification rituals for bodily discharges related primarily to sexual activity are given in this chapter. The first case is that of a man who has a discharge, presumably from his penis. Everyone and everything he touches is considered “unclean.” They and their clothes must be washed. Earthen vessels he touches must be destroyed and wooden ones must be washed. The uncleanness remains until the beginning of a new day at sunset.

13-15: The man with the discharge is “unclean” himself as well. When the discharge ceases he is “unclean” for another seven days. Then he washes his clothes and bathes and is considered “clean” again. The next day he is to bring two pigeons or doves to the tent of meeting where the priest offers one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering and thus makes atonement for the poor fellow.

16-18: If the discharge is seminal, he has to wash everything the semen touches and bathe himself and be “unclean” until the new day begins at sunset. If he is sleeping with a woman she, too, must bathe and be unclean until sunset.

19-24: In the same way, a woman’s menstrual cycle renders her unclean and she must undergo similar purification rituals.

25-30: If a woman has a bloody discharge apart from her cycle, she is to be considered unclean along with everything she touches and the prescribed rituals for bathing are followed. When the discharge ceases she is to observe the same ritual of sacrifices prescribed for the man above.

31: Refusing to follow these rules for purification might prove to be fatal.

32-33: Some see in this chapter stricter rules for women, which they interpret as a sign that women were considered to be of lesser worth, but it is probably not valid to overlay such an interpretation that arises out of contemporary sensibilities. The reason a woman is “unclean” during her monthly period is actually a protection for her, and the prohibition against engaging in sexual activity during that time is as much to remind the husband that God, not he, is her Lord as well as his Lord.

Leviticus 16 (day 106)

            This chapter stands alone in Leviticus. It outlines the rules for keeping the annual “Day of Atonement,” when Aaron (and subsequent high priests) offers sacrifices for all the people and secures their atonement, or forgiveness, so that their covenant with God is annually renewed. Today among Jews the “day of atonement” is known as Yom Kippur. Rabbis refer to it simply as Yoma, “the Day,” for it holds the central place in Israel’s annual worship calendar.

            1-5: Aaron can’t enter the most holy place in the sanctuary of the tabernacle any time he wants. He must bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Then he must bathe and dress in the linen undergarments and the linen robe. From the community he must take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

            6-10: The sin offerings are first. Aaron’s bull is sacrificed, and then the two goats are brought to the entrance of the tent and lots are cast to determine which is to be released to “Azazel.” In earlier translations “Azazel” is rendered “scapegoat.” More recently many scholars have come to regard it as the proper name of a demon that was believed to inhabit the wilderness. This is the only chapter in the Bible in which the name occurs. One goat is sacrificed, the other released into the wilderness. The symbolism seems to be that that the sins of the people are carried away and left out in the desert.

            11-14: Some of the hot coals from the altar are taken by Aaron into the most holy place along with incense and some of the blood from the bull. The incense is burned until its smoke covers the ark, and the blood is sprinkled before the mercy seat seven times. Thus he makes atonement for himself.

            15-19: The goat is sacrificed for the people and some of its blood is sprinkled before the mercy seat. Then some of the blood from the bull and from the goat is smeared on the points of the altar and sprinkled seven times on the ground before the altar, thus drawing a connection between God’s throne and the place where the offering is given.

            20-22: Once the sacrifices have all been made, the live goat is now brought forward. Aaron places his hands on its head and confesses over it all the sins of the people. Then it is sent into the wilderness and set free.

            23-28: Once all the sacrifices are made, Aaron removes the linen garments inside the tent (but not in the most holy place), bathes again, and dons the priestly vestments. He then offers the remaining animals as burnt offerings. The unused parts of the carcasses are removed from the camp. The man who takes the scapegoat into the wilderness and those who carry the remains out of the camp are to bathe before they are allowed to reenter the camp.

            29-34: This ritual is set aside as an annual observance that has come to be known as Yom Kippur, “Day of Atonement,” to be observed on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei in the Jewish calendar. On our calendar this may occur from mid-September to mid-October.

Leviticus 17 (day 107)

            1-7: The people Moses is leading have been accustomed to all kinds of religious practices common to various cultures of that time that must now be put aside in order for them to be God’s covenant people. Therefore it is important that they understand that they are no longer to offer sacrifices just anywhere or to any deity. Their sacrifices must be brought to the tent of meeting and offered to the LORD by an ordained priest. This helps to insure that the people do not fall into the worship of other gods.

            8-9: The penalty for making offerings aside from the prescribed method is to be “cut off” from the people. That is, they will no longer be part of the covenant God has offered.

            10-13: Kosher food is always drained of blood before it is prepared for eating. The understanding is that blood represents life. It is a gift from God which can only be exchanged for making atonement.

            14-16: If you should eat the meat from a “clean” animal that has died of natural causes or that has been killed by wild animals, you cannot be certain that the blood has been properly drained from the meat. Therefore it is necessary to undergo a ritual of bathing yourself and your clothes so that you will be ceremonially “clean” again.

Leviticus 18 (day 108)

            1-5: The people are warned that the practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites are not compatible with the covenant God offers Israel.

            6-18: The chapter continues with a discussion of sexual relations – always a special concern in any human community. Moses outlines what God views as acceptable and unacceptable with regards to sexual activity. Some of the rules are obviously designed to protect the passing of estate wealth from one generation to another. Other rules are concerned with protecting covenant relationships of marriage within the community. Some of these rules seem to have to do with avoiding contention within families.

            19: The reason a woman is not to engage in sexual activity during menstruation has to do with the whole concept of ceremonial cleanliness. Contact with blood renders one “unclean,” and therefore should be avoided whenever possible. If it is not possible, as is the case with women, then previous rules prescribe the steps to be taken to restore the person to being “clean.”

            20: Adultery defiles both parties.

            21: Scholars debate whether or not this verse refers to actual child sacrifice or to some other practice that has to do with dedicating children to a pagan god. In either case it is not to be allowed.

22: The law against male homosexual activity has drawn much attention in recent years, and many see it as an example of limited understanding among ancient people and therefore not binding in modern times. However, it is clear that the Holiness Code in Leviticus does not consider homosexual activity between men (homosexual activity between women is not considered here) to be acceptable among God’s covenant people. Most scholars think the reason has to do with humanity’s created nature as male and female, the joining of which is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. Homosexual activity is thus an affront to the will of God as revealed in our created nature. Remember that the purpose of these laws is to set God’s covenant people apart from the rest of the world.

23: Sexual relations with animals is prohibited for the same reason: it violates our created nature and thus is an affront to the will of God.

24-30: It is reiterated that the Canaanites do “all these things.” Their behavior has resulted in the land being “defiled,” and thus they are being “vomited out.” If the people of Israel do not obey God in the way they relate to one another, they, too, will be cast out of the land.

Day 109: Leviticus 19

            1-4: Leviticus 19 continues the Holiness Code (chapters 17-26). Many of the provisions in this chapter form the basis for some of our own laws. Of course, the first three provisions, reverence for parents, keeping the Sabbath and not turning to other gods are no longer considered the proper subjects for modern legislative prohibitions, but are still essential to the worshiping community that wants to depend on God’s blessings.

            5-8: Sacrifices must be treated reverentially according to the prescribed procedures. Doing otherwise makes a person unsuitable to continue living in community with God’s people. Verse 7 offers a definition of “abomination:” it means “unacceptable” to God and to God’s people.

            9-10: Leave some of your crops for poor people to gather.

            11-12: Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. Don’t lie – especially don’t bring God into it if you do.

            13-14: Ditto on the stealing and cheating. Also, don’t hold on to your employees’ wages, and don’t put down deaf and blind people.

            15-16: Don’t judge unfairly. Don’t be partial to anyone based on the size of their bank account. Don’t tell tales about people and don’t try to make a profit from somebody’s death.

            17-18: Don’t hate your fellow citizens or hold a grudge against them. If you see somebody doing wrong, point it out to them.

            19: Don’t interbreed your animals or mingle your crops or tack your clothes together willy-nilly. You’re somebody; act like you know how God wants things to be.

            20-22: Just because a woman is a slave doesn’t mean you’re free to have sex with her.

23-25: Fruit and nut trees are to be left alone for three years. The fourth year harvest is for praising God. After that you can do as you like with it.

26-28: Don’t act like or try to look like the people of the land who are not God’s people.

29-30: Don’t prostitute your daughter. And, by the way, KEEP THE SABBATH!

31: God doesn’t call people to be mediums or wizards. Don’t go to such for advice or help.

32: Respect the elderly.

33-34: Love your neighbors, even if they’re different.

35-37: Don’t use loaded weights and scales or short yardsticks like they did to you down in Egypt. Remember that you are God’s people.

Day 110: Leviticus 20

            1-5: Parents who sacrifice or dedicate their children to Molech (one of the primary Canaanite deities) are to be stoned to death. This is the first place in the Holiness Code in which stoning is prescribed as a specific punishment, although it is a common form of execution in that day (Exodus 8:26, 17:14, 19:13, 21:28). Furthermore, this sentence is considered so important that if they refuse to carry it out God will disown them.

            6-9: Consulting mediums and wizards is cause for removal from the community. Cursing one’s parents is a capital offense. The protection of the community’s integrity as the people of God is all-important.

            10-12: Adultery is punishable by death, though the form of execution is not specified.

            13: Homosexual sexual intercourse is also punishable by death, the method again not specified.

            14: Here is a specific case: if a man takes a woman as his wife and also her mother, they are to be burned to death. It is thought by some that this practice was common among pagan people. This is the first of only two places where immolation is the prescribed method of execution. The other is a few verses down in 21:9.

            15-16: Sexual intercourse with animals is a capital offence, probably because it denies God’s will as revealed in the creation of various species. It thus indicates a complete lack of scruples on the part of the guilty party.

            17-21: Within families, sexual restraint is particularly important; so much so that violating any of the rules listed here is cause for banishment.

            22-26: It is again emphasized that they must not behave as the Canaanites do, because they are set apart to be a peculiar people in covenant with the LORD. Strict observance of the Holiness Code, including the distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals, is demanded.

            27: Wizards and mediums are common in Canaan, and the people go to them for advice and guidance instead of depending on God. Therefore they are not to be tolerated among God’s people. The punishment is rather severe.

Day 111: Leviticus 21

            1-9: This chapter consists of rules for the priests who are set apart to “offer the food of your God.” This phrase should not be taken to mean that they are feeding God, but simply that the food they offer belongs to God. Priests are the ones who stand between the people and the Most High, and therefore must observe a stricter code of holiness. They must not touch a corpse, unless it is to care for the body of a deceased parent, child, brother or unmarried sister. Priests also must observe a stricter code when it comes to marriage; a list is given of women they cannot marry. The stricter code accrues also to the priests’ daughters – the sons will become priests and other restrictions will apply to them. If the daughter of a priest engages in prostitution she is to be burned – only the second place in scripture where burning is the prescribed form of execution (see 20:14), and in both cases sexual sin across generational lines is involved.

            10-15: High priests (“the priest who is exalted above his fellows”), who are the only ones authorized to ever enter the Most Holy place, must observe even stricter rules. They are not allowed to handle any corpses at all, even of parent or child. They may only marry a virgin. The reason given for these greater restrictions is that the priest serves in an office that brings them into closer proximity to the throne of God. In our time, those who are set apart for ministry are expected to have a more exalted code of behavior than the average person in the pew, but that expectation seems to be fading in more recent times.

            16-24: Priests who have a “blemish” are not allowed into the Most Holy place nor may place offerings upon the great altar, although they are entitled to eat the portions reserved for priests. This restriction seems cruel to us who live in a culture that is increasingly emphasizing the notion of inclusiveness. But in their time it is an appropriate restriction; it acknowledges that the office of the priests who minister in the tabernacle is neither a right nor a privilege of the descendents of Aaron, but rather a duty assigned by God. It does not mean that God rejects persons who have a “blemish,” but simply reflects the conviction that the closer one gets to the throne of God (the “mercy seat” on the ark of the covenant), the narrower the qualifications should be.

Day 112: Leviticus 22

            1-9: Animal and grain offerings that are returned to the donor or to the people to be eaten as part of the prescribed ritual must not be partaken by those who are “unclean” according to the earlier definitions of “clean” and “unclean.”

            10-16: Other offerings, the so-called “sacred donations” that are reserved for the priests only, may not be partaken of by anyone but the priests and their immediate families. If this rule is violated accidentally, the guilty party has to pay a fine.

            17-25: The rule about offering animals without blemish is repeated and specific examples are added.

            26-30: More rules are repeated about the animals that can and cannot be used and when it is acceptable to eat the meat that remains from the sacrifice.

            31-33: The importance of following the rules regarding sacrifices is emphasized: to disobey the rules is to dishonor God.

Day 113: Leviticus 23

            1-2: In order to remain faithful to the covenant, the people are expected to observe special periodic occasions.

            3: Every seven days they must observe the Sabbath.

            4-5: A list of annual observances follows. First is the Passover sacrifice, to be kept on the 14th day of the first month (corresponding to mid-March through mid-April on our calendar) after sunset. That is a Thursday evening.

            6-8: On the Friday evening following Passover they are to observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days. The last day of the festival is to be kept as though it is a Sabbath day even though it is the day before the next Sabbath.

            9-14: When they are settled in the land, every year they are to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tabernacle the first sheaf of the grain harvest. They must not eat any of the harvest until the sheaf has been presented. This is the offering of First Fruits, and is to be observed every year when the harvest is ready.

            15-21: The next observance is the Festival of Weeks. It is calculated by counting 50 days from the day after the Sabbath after the offering of First Fruits. Later it will be known as Pentecost (from the Greek word for 50). Each settlement or village is to bring grain offerings, drink offerings, 7 yearling lambs, a young bull and 2 rams as burnt offerings. In addition they must bring a male goat for a sin offering and 2 male yearling lambs as an offering of well-being. That day also must be observed as a Sabbath day, with no labor.

            22: And don’t forget, leave some of your crops in the fields for the poor people to glean!

            23-25: A Festival of Trumpets is to be observed as a holy day of rest with burnt offerings on the first day of the seventh month – mid-to-late September. (It is this occasion that the priest Ezra chooses for the reading of the Law to the people after the Exile – see Nehemiah 8:2.)

            26-32: The next observance is called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is to be kept on the 10th day of the 7th month (mid-September to mid-October). It is described in detail in Chapter 16. It is to be kept as a Sabbath day and as a day of fasting.

            33-44: The next is the Festival of Booths, or Succoth, to be kept on the 15th day of the seventh month. The seventh month is thus loaded with holy observances, corresponding to the seventh day of creation. (It is also the month in which the ark came to rest from the waters of the flood – see Genesis 8:4.) The people are to dwell in shelters to be reminded of their sojourn in the wilderness.

Day 114: Leviticus 24

            1-4: The people are told to bring oil for the lamp that is inside the tabernacle, just outside the curtain that encloses the most holy place where the ark of the covenant is kept. The lamp is to burn continually, replenished by the priest who enters every morning and evening. The eternal flame becomes in later prophecy (Isaiah 49:6) a symbol of Israel as a “light to the nations.” According to the description of the making of the lamp stand which we read several weeks back, it is the menorah, with seven branches. In the book of Revelation the seven lamps are used as a symbol of the seven churches in Asia.

            5-9: The bread of presence is the daily consecration to God of the labor and work of the people.

            10-16: Beginning at verse 10 we are given an account of what happens when someone blasphemes the name of the LORD. There are several interesting aspects to the case: 1) the Israelite who blasphemes the name of God has an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, which reminds us that we have only just recently left slavery behind in Egypt. 2) It also indicates that, although the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, there must have been a great deal of cross – culturalization. 3) God simply will not tolerate any rebellion on the part of the people – disrespecting God is a capital crime, punishable by stoning to death.

            17-23: The story of the blasphemer segues into a list of criminal acts which merit various penalties, from death to restitution. Verse 20 is the famous “eye for an eye” saying. These verses seem pretty brutal to us, but represent a breakthrough for human rights in ancient society. You aren’t allowed to kill somebody for breaking your arm or knocking out your tooth; injuries could only be avenged in kind.

Day 115: Leviticus 25

            1-7: The people must practice holiness (be set apart from other people in the way they live) even in their ownership and use of the land. Although their entry into Canaan will not be for another 38 years, as far as Moses knows it is imminent, so he tells them that when they enter the land they must understand that the land itself is holy to the Lord and must be allowed to observe a Sabbath rest of one year every seven years. They may eat whatever the land produces of itself but they may not plant or cultivate during the seventh year.

            8-12: Every 50th year, called jubilee, is also to be an observance of Sabbath rest for the land.

13-17: It is expected that the land as allocated to the twelve tribes will remain with the tribes as allocated. Therefore in the jubilee year all land is to be returned to the family of its original owners. The Jubilee year thus makes necessary other provisions having to do with the value of land that is sold or bought because it is really being leased for the number of years remaining until the next jubilee year. Most scholars find little evidence that the jubilee year was ever regularly observed.

            18-24: The people are assured that the land will produce enough in the sixth year for them to lay aside stores for the sabbath and jubilee years. They are to understand that the land belongs to God, and they to be the caretakers of it. A high level of stewardship is demanded of God’s people.

            25-28: Rules are laid out to cover the repurchase of land that is sold because of financial difficulties.

            29-34: Houses in walled cities may change hands permanently because the land does not belong to the individual, but houses in the small villages are on land belonging to the individual and are subject to the jubilee laws. Houses and lands belonging to Levites receive a special consideration because of their unique situation regarding land ownership.

            35-38: Kinfolk are to be treated as family. Don’t turn them away if they need a place to stay and don’t charge them interest if they borrow from you. Obviously God hasn’t met some of my kinfolk.

            39-46: It is decreed that God’s people may never buy or sell one another into slavery. They may become indentured should poverty make that necessary, but must be released in the jubilee year. Foreigners, however, may be acquired as slaves and bequeathed to one’s heirs as any other property. This sounds inhuman to us today, but certainly is more humane that the practice of most cultures in the time of Moses. Note, too, that the acquisition of slaves seems to be based upon the needs of the person who is being bought, not on the needs or desires of the person doing the buying – in other words, it is a way of ameliorating the effects of poverty.

            47-55: The people of Israel are to be God’s servants and nobody else’s. If, by reason of poverty, they sell themselves to a resident alien, the law of the land is that they may be redeemed at any time by a relative or by themselves, the price of redemption decreasing as the year of jubilee approaches. In the year of jubilee any Israelite held as a slave must be freed.

            Slavery was a common practice in those days, but it was nothing like the organized and barbaric slave trade developed during the colonization of the western world in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Day 116: Leviticus 26

            1-2: This is the last chapter of the Holiness Code, and it is the chapter that deals with the consequences of obedience and disobedience. But first the people are asked to recall the first 4 of the 10 Commandments, each of which have to do with the community’s relationship with God. Note that Sabbath-keeping is once again the ultimate expression of obedience.

            The rest of the chapter reminds us of the creation story in Genesis 1, for seven movements are described:

            3-13: The first movement has to do with “if you obey.” Obedience brings certain blessings ending with, “I will walk among you,” which recalls the Garden of Eden story.

            14-17: The 2nd movement begins a long section on the consequences of disobedience. In this round, Israel’s enemies will be victorious over them.

            18-20: The 3rd movement escalates the punishment of disobedience: The sky is like iron, the earth like copper, so that crops fail and trees cannot fruit. Remember the 3rd day of Creation – the bringing forth of vegetation. This movement reverses that part of creation for Israel.

            21-22: The 4th movement presents a sevenfold punishment, and now wild animals abound to the destruction of civilization in Israel.

            23-26: The 5th movement presents a second “sevenfold” punishment, now the cities of Israel are besieged by their enemies – destruction at the hands of other human beings.

            27-33: The 6th movement presents a third “sevenfold” punishment; the sieges result in the populace resorting to cannibalism, and they are forced into exile. Clearly the escalation of punishment here mirrors what is happening to Israel towards the end of the dynasty of David when Jerusalem is besieged, destroyed, and the people exiled to Babylon.

            34-39: The 7th movement grants a Sabbath rest to the land (surprised?), which of course corresponds to the 7th day of the Creation story in Genesis 1.

            40: But now an 8th movement is described: if they confess their sins, the land and the people will be restored. This may be thought of as an “8th day of creation,” a new beginning.

Day 117: Leviticus 27

            This chapter is a sort of clean-up list for the book of Leviticus as it outlines the rules for vows and offerings not covered in the rest of the book.

            The duties described in Chapter 27 are not obligatory on anyone, but have to do with votive (voluntary) offerings and vows. They are not required. There are perhaps 3 reasons for such vows: to procure some blessing from God, to give thanks for some special favor received, and to spontaneously express one’s love and devotion to God.

            This chapter settles certain questions that would have arisen: for example, what kinds of things can you offer to or devote to God? If you made such a vow or offering and then changed your mind, could you get it back since it was not required? What conditions and/or penalties might be involved if you took such offering or vow back?

            And so we have rules for:

            The dedication of person (verses 2-8) Note that the values placed on different classes of people are based on the value of the labor the person is capable of, not on the person’s intrinsic value as a human being. We know that old people were especially revered, yet they are assessed a lower “value” because they are less able to perform heavy work. They are not less important.

            The dedication of clean animals (9-10)

            The dedication of unclean animals which are not to be used for sacrifice (11-13) “Unclean” does not mean “useless.” Camels and donkeys are most useful animals, but do not meet the definition of “clean.”

            The dedication of houses (14-15)

            The dedication of land (16-24)

            Assorted rules on other types of vows (verses 25-37)

            Scholars have long noted that these laws presuppose an elaborate religious system more suitable to a settled nation of people than to nomadic tribes.