Saturday, February 24, 2024

Bible in a Year Feb 24: Deuteronomy 1:16 – 3:29


Feb 24: Deuteronomy 1:16 – 3:29


We are in the final book of the Pentateuch! You are doing a fabulous job – stick with it.

‘Deuteronomy’ means ‘repetition of the law’. I know – that sounds like such an exciting book to read, especially if you struggled with the FIRST reading of the law! But we can do this – it’s only eleven days –and I’m sure there are some pearls of wisdom we will learn along the way.

Moses is proclaimed to be the author by almost all scholars, however we know someone else probably wrote the preamble and obviously the part after Moses dies. There are over 100 references to Deuteronomy in the New Testament, including quotations Jesus used.

This is considered Moses’ farewell address, and it’s believed this is  a series of ‘sermons’ he gave over the course of several days, knowing he would soon be going to his death. It is essentially al covenant renewal and is full of the love relationship between God and His people. Overall it is a call to commitment and obedience.

The key verses are probably Dt 6:4-7 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Moses is now an old man (about 120 years old), and he is remembering the journey the Israelites have been on. However, it seems to me his memory is fading a bit! Did you notice the way he’s changed the story?

Verse 19 is the only time I’ve seen any reference to the difficulty of the journey when he refers to the ‘vast and dreadful desert’. But then he talks to the new generation of Israelites as if they were the original travelers. In 1:22 he blames them for wanting to send out spies to investigate the Promised Land, yet Numbers 13:1-3 states it was God’s command. God selected the 12 men to go, not Moses.

A little later, in 1:37, Moses blames the Israelites for keeping him from seeing the Promised Land. Hmmm, that’s not how Numbers 20:9-13 tells it! Even later in our text, Dt 3:26, Moses refuses to take responsibility for his rash actions. He has begged God to let him step foot in the land, but God stands firm. He does, however, allow Moses to view it from the top of a mountain.

With these inconsistencies, does it mean that we can’t trust the Bible? Of course not! How many times do we see others remember things incorrectly after just a few days, much less 40 years (of course, we ourselves NEVER do that…). Honestly, I think this gives more credibility to the Bible. These words most likely came from a journal Moses kept and were recorded just as he wrote them instead of being corrected to ensure absolute consistency.

The little historical references that interrupt his speech are interesting, too, and add a lot of validity to the story. The items he mentions can be validated archaeologically when artifacts exist. My favorite reference, though, is to the size of King Og’s bed!

Oh, wouldn’t it be amazing to read his journal?

TOMORROW’S TEXT: Dt. 4:1 – 6:15

Friday, February 23, 2024

Bible in a Year Feb 23: Numbers 34 – 36, Deuteronomy 1:1-15


Feb 23: Numbers 34 – 36, Deuteronomy 1:1-15

As we finish out Numbers, God commands the people to establish Promised Land boundaries for the Israelites and allows them to subdivide it for each tribe. Again God names the participants on the committee to divide the land by name. The tribes of Reuben and Gad are left out because they already have land on the east of the Jordan. A portion of the tribe of Manasseh also stayed, but the remaining group participated in the division exercise. Having attended meetings that lasted for torturous hours over much less significant decisions, I can’t imagine how long and difficult those meetings must have been as they decided where each tribe should live!

The information about sanctuary cities is interesting to me. I guess the culture of the day was to get retribution immediately if someone was killed, regardless of intent! God institutes the requirement for more than one witness and provides a safe place in the event the death was an accident. Unfortunately, however, it seems the person who accidentally killed someone else was then required to spend quite a bit of time away from home – they had to remain in the sanctuary city until the death of the high priest.  As long as people lived back then I imagine that could be along time. Were the families of the accused also welcome?

At first I felt sorry for the daughters of Zelophehad for having to marry within their tribe. What a limitation! However, with 52,700 men of fighting age I imagine they didn’t have too much trouble finding someone to love.

Is anyone else frustrated by the places this Bible reading plan ends on a daily basis? Some days it’s impossible to stop reading at the ending point!

TOMORROW’S TEXT: Deuteronomy 1:16 – 3:29

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Bible in a Year Feb 22: Numbers 31:48 – 33:56


Feb 22: Numbers 31:48 – 33:56

I wonder what the other tribes thought of the plans of the tribes of Benjamin and Gad to forsake the Promised Land and settle in the area where they were currently staying? Moses obviously was worried that God would smite them and cause the Israelites to wander in the desert forever. Did the other tribes wish they had thought of the idea? It sounds like it took quite a bit of work for this area to be built up appropriately but we have no idea how much time passed.

The listing of areas the Israelites traveled is incredible. There are some 35 places listed, and I’m sure there were times of multiple days travel between them. The historian in me loves that each was documented so we can chart their journey.

The elders of the group had been mere teenagers when they left Egypt and probably had little recollection of the tribulations of that time. Everyone under the age of 40 knew only the nomadic life, yet since birth they had heard the stories and held the hope of the end of their journey. I wonder how many knew of the forty year punishment and carefully marked the years waiting for the reward of the Promised Land? After a year or so the life became ‘normal’, with births, weddings, and other celebrations. Games were played, meals were cooked, prayers were said, and songs were sung. Traveling and living in a tent, gathering manna each morning, and watching for the cloud/pillar of fire to move was a way of life. It’s not hard to see why the Benjamites and Gadites were anxious to settle in a place they could see instead of continuing on.

Which group do you think you might have wanted to join?

TOMORROW’S TEXT: Numbers 34 – 36, Deuteronomy 1:1-15

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Bible in a Year Feb 21: Numbers 29:1 – 31:47


Feb 21: Numbers 29:1 – 31:47

Today’s text continues a list of required offerings and actions for festivals. The three festivals listed, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles all take place in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, Tishri, which occurs in our September/October timeframe. Out of those 30 days, 9 of them were times of required sacred assembly and no work. On the day of Atonement people were also to deny themselves, which amounted to fasting.  These festivals are still celebrated by the Jewish people today.

The Feast of Trumpets is celebrated as the two day holiday Rosh Hashanah and still involves the blowing of the shofar. The first ten days of the seventh month are seen as days of repentance leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people, a day of prayer and complete fasting – no food or water – and involve lengthy prayer services. The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) is called Sukkot, and commemorates the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness.  Full participation in this festival requires people to set up booths or tents and live outside for seven days.

The text ends with vengeance on the Midianites. The five kings of Midian are killed, along with Balaam the seer. There are some hard elements of this battle – although all women and children were originally taken as captives, God required that the boys and all women who weren’t virgins to be killed. I imagine that was difficult for many of the warriors to do. In all, 32,000 women and girls survived and most likely became slaves. All plunder that was captured had to be purified with fire if possible or at least washed with the water of cleansing (remember, that had the ashes of the red heifer in it).

It is hard to imagine the emotions of all players on those days.

TOMORROW’S TEXT: Numbers 31:48 – 33:56

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Bible in a Year Feb 20: Numbers 26:35-28:31


Feb 20: Numbers 26:35-28:31

Today’s reading starts with the rest of the census. At this point not a single person from the original census (those over the age of 20 at that time) was left except Caleb, Joshua, and Moses of course. That meant that there was no one else over the age of 59! Everyone had spent at least twice as long in the desert as they had in Egypt. Now there were actually a few thousand more men of this age than there was at the beginning!

A couple of items that interested me in the genealogy – the only woman mentioned is Serah, the daughter of Asher (v 26:46). Did no other son of Jacob have a daughter? And of course there is no mention of Dinah. I wonder what influence Serah must have had to be named here? Some speculate that she may have been a prominent ancestor of the Asherite clan because she is mentioned in all the Asherite genealogies (here, Num 26:46, and 1 Chr 7:30).

Did you find it strange that Moses and his family are left completely out of the picture? Exodus 18:4 says that Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought the two sons of Moses, Gershom and Eliezer, to join Moses along with his wife Zipporah. We never hear any more about them. Did they stay with Moses in the desert or return with Jethro when he went back home? They don’t feature in the genealogy of the Levites.

There is so much more to be said about today’s reading. Oh, the courage Zelophehad’s daughters must have had! And God goes totally against the culture to give them an inheritance. Moses gets to view the Promised Land from a distance, but will never step foot on it in his lifetime (but wait until we get to the New Testament!) We also see the commissioning of Joshua to succeed Moses.

TOMORROW’S TEXT: Numbers 29:1 – 31:47

Monday, February 19, 2024

Bible in a Year Feb 19: Numbers 24:1 – 26:34


Feb 19: Numbers 24:1 – 26:34

So Balaam continues with his prophecies, and when he saw that God was pleased when he blessed the Israelites, he did so again. I imagine this was the only time he got reinforcement for his prophecies other than when he told others what they wanted to hear!

While the Israelites are waiting for permission to pass, it appears that many of the men were seduced by Moabite and Midianite women. This kicked off another huge plague which was stopped by the actions of Phineahas, son of Eleazor the head priest.

Some background – the Moabites are the nation that descended from the son of Lot and his oldest daughter (remember, she seduced him in a cave after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed). The Midianites hail from the fourth son of Abraham and his second wife, Keturah. Moses’ wife and father-in-law were Midianites.

Then we get into the second census of men who were of fighting age. In general it is hard for me to read through these genealogies and census numbers, so I like to look for interesting facts that are hidden among them. The history of Reuben’s clan again reminds us of the rebellion against Moses, and in the descendants of Judah we are reminded of Er and Onan, Tamar’s first and second husbands. It is also interesting to look for names that show up later in the genealogy of Jesus. Perez (verse 26:20) is listed in both genealogies of Jesus (Mt 1:3 and Lk 3:33).

How far back can you trace your ancestors?

TOMORROW’S TEXT: Numbers 26:35-28:31

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Bible in a Year Feb 18: Numbers 21-23


Feb 18: Numbers 21-23

The Israelites are trying to get through the desert to the Promised Land, but they are having difficulty getting permission to travel across the land. It’s little wonder that people didn’t want this huge crowd walking through their land, drinking their water, eating their food, and leaving a mess behind. But despite their promises to merely pass and not be a disturbance, they were refused. As a result of attacks on the wanderers, God allowed his people to overtake their enemies and inhabit the towns. Can you imagine how wonderful it must have been to sleep in a real house for the first time in decades? Even if it wasn’t your own.

The king of Moab hears about these battles and is terrified of the Israelites. He calls on Balaam, a well known oracle, to curse the group.

So who was this Balaam? He is mentioned in eight books of the Bible! He wasn’t an Israelite, at least not a devout one, but he obviously knew a lot about the history and current status of God’s people.  In his discourses he mentions Jacob and the exodus from Egypt. He knows about the sacrificial practice and the significance of the number seven. I wonder who he was actually offering these sacrifices to, for the Lord was very clear about the process for offering sacrifices to him.

And it is obvious that he has heard from God and respected (somewhat) what he heard. My study Bible points out that the author of Numbers (Moses) didn’t have much respect for Balaam’s contact with the Lord. If you look closely, the ‘narrator’ of the story uses the term ‘God’ (original term Elohim) most often when referring to the interaction between God and Balaam, yet uses the word ‘Lord’ (Yahweh) when quoting Balaam.

I wonder what surprised Balaam more – hearing his donkey speak or seeing the angel of the Lord?

There is actually an inscription related to Balaam at an archaeological site in Gilead, east of the Jordon River. It is a poetic story of a vision supposedly given to Balaam by the god El that he relayed to the leaders regarding an impending disaster. This reinforces the theory that Balaam was not a follow of the one true God, but a mystic who professed to speak to multiple gods. I bet he was surprised when our Lord actually responded!

TOMORROW’S TEXT: Numbers 24:1 – 26:34