Friday, January 08, 2016

Reading in Numbers This Week #2 (Chapters 5-11)

41Quqi3pMxL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I am continuing to read through the Old Testament this year accompanied by commentaries from various traditions. For December and January I have been working through a discussion on the book of Numbers, with the commentary, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, by Iain M. Duguid. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Chapters 5-6 are about how to maintain the holiness in the camp with a holy God in the center. Chapter 5 contains laws that deal with sin and maintain holiness while 6 deals with vows that recognize and celebrate that holiness. Chapter 5 deals with three types of sin and provides a way to maintain holiness when they are committed. Unintentional uncleanness is dealt with by a purification sacrifice. Intentional sin requires confession and restitution in addition to sacrifice. Finally, unproven unfaithfulness of a wife (Israel in the larger context of the OT) was brought to the priest and dealt with directly by God. This provided justice to the guilty and protection for the innocent. Chapter 6 focuses on vows and blessings that highlight the holy calling of the nation. The Nazirite was to be a reminder to the nation of the need to give up even the normal pleasures of life for a time to fulfill the mission to which God had called them. The Aaronic blessing shows the commitment of God to bless His people despite their propensity to sin and corruption. He wants to bless with his provision, protection and presence. Jesus death on the cross for all people shows God's gracious commitment to bless all humanity. God does not need to be coerced into blessing us, His blessing just needs to be received.

In our society, people generally think that the only problem standing between them and God is their behavior. If I’m a good person, God will surely accept me; if I am a bad person, then God will reject me. The Bible, however, shows us that this analysis is superficial and thoughtless. Sin is not just about what you do; it is about your very nature as a human being in this world. Duguid, Numbers 5, 69

The Nazirite vow was generally not forever. A Nazirite did not give up these things because the spiritual life is automatically enhanced by a life of giving things up. He or she was not an ascetic. Rather, he or she gave these things up temporarily, knowing that at the end of the time he or she would sit down in the presence of the Lord for a covenant meal. So too, whatever you and I may give up in this life, it is only a temporary loss. There is an end coming. There is a time ahead of us when all of the separation and tears and pain will be over, and we will sit down in the presence of our covenant Lord for a grand feast. Numbers 6.1-21, 84

Far too often I still look for my blessing in other places and in other things. I am the faithless wife, not the Nazirite. Yet God is nonetheless determined to bless me! The Lord wants his blessing and his name placed on me. The people that Jesus came to seek and to save are not the Nazirites but the sinners, for we all fall short of God’s perfect standard. Numbers 6.22-27, 92

The subject of chapters 7-9 is the preparation for worship and meeting God in the Tabernacle. Chapter 7 meticuluosly repeats the gifts of each tribe to highlight the enormity of their generosity as they give to a "housewarming" as God the king moves into His palace in the center of the camp. They provide for the transporting and service of the tent as a response to God's blessing in the previous chapter and thankfulness for their inclucsion in what God is doing. In chapter 8 the menorah was prepared as a symbol of the light of God going out into the community, and the Levites were prepared to "substitute" for the entire nation as those given over to the service of the tabernacle. Preparation for the "proper and precise" celebration of the Passover is discussed in 9.1-14. God gave very precise instructions for how the Passove was to be celebrated, but also made allowances for those who were unable to celebrate it at the appointed time. Instructions were also given for allowing Gentiles to celebrate with them.

Do you know the reality and scale of the blessing you have received in Christ? If so, no one will have to beg you to give or beat you into giving. You will have a heart that longs to give, that delights to give as much as you possibly can, so that the name of Christ can be lifted up and his grace magnified. You will eagerly and joyfully pour out your life in his service, so that the wonder of his mercy can be known more widely. Numbers 7, 105

What the priests declared in the words of their benediction, the lampstand of the tabernacle proclaimed as a daily reality: the light of the Lord’s blessing rested upon all of the tribes of his people, making their offerings acceptable in his sight. God’s love and acceptance of those who were his was depicted at the very heart of the tabernacle. Numbers 8.1-4, 109

The irregular category bridges the gap between right and wrong by recognizing that there are some situations where pursuing one Biblical principle and meeting people’s needs necessarily brings you into conflict with another Biblical principle. The solution is neither to declare the Biblical principles irrelevant, as liberals would, nor to declare people’s needs disposable, like the Pharisees. It is rather to seek God’s direction and to do the best you can in the present circumstances, while moving as quickly as possible toward fulfilling all of the Biblical principles. Numbers 9.1-14, 126

Chapters 9 and 10 resume the story of the journey of the Israelites after their long encampment at Mt. Sinai. The main point of the chapter is that God would be leading and directing them in the wilderness. Thus, they needed to trust God's direction and obey him. They needed to be prepared for the hardship and warfare (they were organized as an army) that were coming. God the warrior would fight for them on the journey and lead them through to rest in the promised land. It would not be easy but the rest they would experience at the end of the journey would make it worthwhile. However, the Israelites did not trust and obey, but instead gave into the very contagious sin of grumbling in which even Moses participated. It is interesting that, in the first instance of sin in chapter 11 he intercedes for the people, but in the second he participates in the sin along with them. Interestingly, God gives the people, and Moses, what they ask for: over-abundant meat and help to Moses. The meat become a judgment to the people as it led to plague, and the help became a hindrance to Moses as his prophetic leadership was questioned for the rest of his life.

The wandering people of God were about to begin a pilgrimage that would revolve around the twin themes of warfare and worship. That pilgrimage would continue even after they had entered the land. What is more, God’s presence and their obedience were absolutely necessary if these tasks were to be carried out successfully.  Numbers 9.15-10.10, 132

We need constantly to remember that the Christian life is a journey, a pilgrimage, which necessarily involves discomfort and suffering. It is a journey whose sacrifices only make sense in the light of the outcome. Numbers 10.11-36, 138

Grumbling distorts your vision. It reimagines the past as a golden land, it despises the good gifts that God has surrounded you with in the present, and it completely ignores God’s promises for the future. That’s why I say that the root of grumbling is unbelief. Grumbling is an unbelief that robs you of your joy. Numbers 11, 150

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