Monday, April 30, 2007

Numbers 14

Numbers 14: The people are afraid to go into the Promised Land

Synopsis

In the last chapter, the Israelites sent spies into the Promised Land, to check it out. They came back and reported that it was a good land—flowing with milk and honey—but that they didn’t think the Israelites could defeat the people living there. Caleb disagreed, but he was a minority of one; nobody else who had gone believed that the Israelites could do it. In this chapter, the people believe the bad report, and decide that they’d be better off as slaves in Egypt than getting slaughtered trying to conquer the Promised Land.

Upon hearing the spies’ report, the people begin to wail, and weep aloud. And they go back to their usual refrain: If only we had been left in Egypt!

All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (verses 2–4)

Moses doesn’t like this, and falls facedown in front of the community. In this case, Aaron does the right thing, and falls down beside Moses. Caleb—the one spy who had urged the Israelites to go into the Promised Land as the LORD had instructed—and Joshua, tear their clothes, and try to convince the people to follow God’s will:

[Joshua and Caleb] said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (verses 7–9)

And how do the people respond to this? They start to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb! At this point, the LORD steps in: It’s time to give these people what they deserve.

The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (verses 11–12)

Unfortunately for the Israelites, this is a pretty reasonable plan. The LORD has done so much for His people, and they’ve done little but complain. He has no reason to remain faithful to these people, except for His own nature. Luckily for them, however, His nature is such that He is forgiving and patient with His people. And His nature is exactly what Moses appeals to, when he begs for forgiveness for the people:

Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, ‘The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.

“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

(verses 13–19)


(When it says “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed,” I don’t know if it’s a typo in the NIV that the lowercase “Lord” is used, or if a different word is used in the Hebrew, instead of the word normally designated “LORD.”)

Because of this, the LORD backs down from His anger, and relents, so that He doesn’t execute the entire Israelite community. However, there will still be consequences for their sin:

The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (verses 20–24)

He then instructs them to move on from their current location, and to take a particular route, to avoid the Amalekites and Canaanites. And then… He reiterates what He just said:

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die.” (verses 26–35)

After this, all of the spies—except for Caleb—are struck down with a plague, and die. Verse 38 says “Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived,” although Chapter 13 didn’t mention Joshua as being one of the spies.

So Moses goes back to the people, and reports all of this to them. They “mourn bitterly” for their sin (verse 39), and foolishly decide to go into the land after all, and try to conquer it. Moses hears about it, and warns them not to; after all, if the LORD is not with them—and, at this point, He is not—then how can they possibly expect to succeed? But they ignore him, and go anyway. And, as expected, it doesn’t work; the people of the land attack them, and “beat them down all the way to Hormah” (verse 45). If I had a better knowledge of the geography of the area, it would be interesting to know exactly what that means, but it sounds, just based on the tone, like they were beaten pretty soundly.

Thoughts

This chapter contains a couple of customs that we’re probably not too familiar with, in North America, in which the Jews displayed anguish. Near the beginning of the chapter, Caleb and Joshua tear their clothes, as a show of distress, and, even more extreme, Moses and Aaron fall facedown on the ground. I don’t know the precise meaning of these two actions, but the general intent is clear: To display that the person’s soul is very bothered. People tear their clothes all the time, in the Old Testament, to show that they are grieving for a particular situation, or in extreme cases, fall facedown—usually “before the LORD,” although in this case Moses and Aaron fall facedown before the community—which, to me, indicates that the person is so grieving/sorrowful/anguished that s/he can’t even stand up.

In terms of the action, when Moses is trying to convince the LORD not to wipe out the people, in verses 13–19, it kind of sounds like he’s appealing to God’s vanity; “if you wipe out these people, then all of the surrounding nations will hear about it, and think that You weren’t able to save Your own people.” However, you have to remember that vanity is a human thing; it doesn’t make any sense to talk about God being vain, because He is the only being in the universe that actually deserves all of the praise we could give Him (and more). As humans—especially Christian humans—we are taught that humility is a trait we should all have, but it’s one that God doesn’t have, because He has nothing to be humble about. So, although it might be strange to our ears, it actually makes sense for Moses to remind the LORD that one of the reasons He saved His people, the Israelites, was to display His strength to the surrounding nations.

Finally, when Joshua and Caleb speak to the Israelite community, in verses 7–9 (quoted above), they include an important clause, which is what this chapter is all about: “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land…” This chapter is about the Israelites’ faith in God. It doesn’t matter how many Amelekites or Anekites they have to face—every battle is up to the LORD. Can the Israelites do it on their own? No. Can the LORD do anything He wishes? Absolutely—so what’s the problem? So I find it ironic that the people talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb—a punishment normally reserved for crimes like blasphemy—when the only crime they have committed is following the LORD.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Numbers 13

Numbers 13: The Israelites reach the border of the Promised Land, and send in spies to check it out

Synopsis

In this chapter, the Israelites make it to the land the LORD has promised them will be their land. It’s currently called Canaan, but it will become the nation of Israel, when the Israelites move in and take it over. But first, they decide to send in some men to check it out.

So they send in twelve men, who are all leaders from their tribes. I was going to put their names here, but the only one I’m really concerned with is Caleb, since we’ll hear about him later. Moses instructs the men what to look for, as they travel through Canaan:

  • Are the people strong, or weak? Few, or many?
  • Is the land itself good, or bad? Is the soil fertile, or poor? What are the trees like?
  • What are the towns like? Are they walled, or fortified?
(This is paraphrased from verses 17–20.) He also asks them to bring back some fruit from the land.

The men go, and for forty days they explore the land. They go all through it (I think; geography’s not my strong point), and even get some of the fruit from the land, which they carry out with them. (They actually create a pole, and hang the fruit from the pole, which is carried by a couple of men. Seems a bit over the top, to me, but I guess they wanted to have a sense of ceremony about it.)

When they get back, though, there is some disagreement as to how they should proceed:

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

(verses 27–33)


This is where the chapter ends, so we’ll see how the people proceed in the next chapter. (Hint: They fail the test.)

Thoughts

In this chapter we see the beginning of a big problem the Israelites have: lack of faith in God. “Sure, He has done a lot of great things for us so far, but there’s no way He could help us defeat these people! It’s too much even for Him to do!” It’s only the spies—aside from Caleb—who have a lack of faith in this chapter, but in the next chapter, we’ll see that it spreads to the rest of the Israelites, too.

I write this all the time, but I never get tired of writing it: The problems the Israelites faced, and the mistakes they made, are simply a larger example of my own types of problems, and the mistakes I make. The Israelites didn’t trust the LORD to get them into the Promised Land, just like I don’t trust Him day after day, to get me through much simpler tasks. It’s always tempting to judge them, for not following God as they should have, but anyone looking at my life would have the same judgements.

And one final thought: I love the phrase “a land flowing with milk and honey,” which is often used to describe the Promised Land. To my ears, it’s very poetic, and beautiful.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Numbers 12

Numbers 12: Miriam and Aaron get jealous

Synopsis

In the last chapter, we saw a great example of Moses’ humility: When the LORD took some of His Spirit off of Moses, and put that Spirit on the other leaders, Moses didn’t get jealous. Instead, he was happy that the LORD’s will was being done, regardless of who was doing it. In this chapter, we see the opposite: Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron, seem to be jealous of Moses’ special relationship with the LORD.

Their concern starts off with the fact that Moses had married a Cushite, instead of an Israelite. (After all, the Israelites were the LORD’s chosen people—not the Cushites.) However, verse 2 indicates that this wasn’t their only concern—or even their primary concern:

“Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.

In other words, “What’s so great about Moses? The LORD speaks to us, too!” I don’t actually recall a mention in the Bible of God speaking directly to Aaron or Miriam, I only remember cases where He spoke to the entire Israelite community, but it’s possible that they’re referring to an incident that wasn’t recorded. Or, they’re just blowing smoke.

But this passage is then, again, contrasted with Moses’ humility, in a parenthetical aside:

(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) (verse 3)

(I was actually thinking of this verse, while writing about the last chapter, when I was talking about Moses’ humility. If I could have remembered where it was, I would have quoted it, but I thought it was in Deuteronomy somewhere. I feel silly, now that I see it was in the very next chapter!)

So the LORD decides to nip this in the bud. He calls them to come to the Tent of Meeting—and it almost sounds like He is summoning unruly children: “… Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you. …” (verse 4). They do so, and then He calls forward Miriam and Aaron, to properly explain to them Moses’ position:

he said, “Listen to my words:
  “When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
  I reveal myself to him in visions,
  I speak to him in dreams.

But this is not true of my servant Moses;
  he is faithful in all my house.

With him I speak face to face,
  clearly and not in riddles;
  he sees the form of the LORD.
  Why then were you not afraid
  to speak against my servant Moses?”

The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.

(verses 6–9)


After this, the LORD’s cloud lifts from the Tent, and they find that Miriam has been struck with some form of skin disease. (As usual, the text says that she was “leprous,” but with a footnote indicating that the word doesn’t necessarily mean “leprosy,” just some form of skin disease.) When Aaron sees Miriam, he immediately repents:

“Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.” (verses 11b–12)

Moses then pleads with the LORD to heal her, and I love the LORD’s response:

The LORD replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back. (verses 14–15)

Thoughts

This passage quoted above, from verses 6–9, makes it clear that Moses was more than just a prophet: he saw the LORD in a unique, and special way. He, in fact, actually saw the LORD—or at least “the form of the LORD.” Other passages refer to Moses speaking with the LORD “face to face.”

Which makes Moses’ humility all the more striking. I don’t know the cause or effect—whether the LORD had His special relationship with Moses because of Moses’ humility, or if Moses was humble because he’d seen himself more directly compared with the LORD than anyone else ever had—and it gets even more confusing to try and determine causality when the LORD is in control of everything. But it doesn’t matter; regardless of the cause or effect, emulating Moses’ humility is something we should strive for, as Christians.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Template Change

I’ve made a very slight change to the template for this blog. Quotations will now use the blog’s sans-serif font, instead of the serif font.When I say “quotations,” I mean things like this:

This is a quotation.

For the most part, that means Bible quotations, but once in a while I quote other things here, too.

You may not know what “serif” or “sans-serif” fonts are, but it doesn’t matter. The main point is that if you notice this change, and think it’s just your eyes, it’s not. The blog is actually different.

Numbers 11

Numbers 11: Fire and quail from the LORD

Synopsis

For the last couple of chapters, things have been going pretty well. The LORD has handed down various commandments and instructions, and the people have followed His instructions very well. In this chapter, however, things go a bit sour.

It starts with the Israelites complaining about “their hardships” (verse 1). (It’s not specified what those perceived “hardships” are, just that the people are complaining about them.) This displeases the LORD, and He sends down fire, which “burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp” (verse 1). I don’t know if this means any of the people are killed; when it says that “the outskirts of the camp” are “consumed,” I don’t know if this means people or not. (I assume not, however, I don’t have much to back that up.)

When this happens, the people go to Moses, and he prays to the LORD, who then stops the fire. The people then name the place “Taberah,” which means “burning.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the trouble. After this:

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (verses 4–6)

You will notice, here and in future chapters, that the Israelites don’t always remember their hardships in Egypt very accurately. The “rabble” among them seemed to remember their time in Egypt as much better than it really was.

In any event, word comes to Moses that this is happening, and he becomes troubled. The LORD, of course, also becomes angry—“exceedingly angry,” according to verse 10. So Moses approaches the LORD, to talk to Him about it—except that Moses’ talk with the LORD really becomes a complaining session of his own!

He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (verses 11–15)

Because of this, the LORD commands Moses to bring seventy of Israel’s elders—people who were already known to Moses as “leaders and officials among the people” (verse 16)—so that He can take some of His Spirit from Moses, and put that Spirit in them. This way the leadership responsibilities will be more divided, and the burden won’t be completely on Moses.

But the LORD doesn’t forget about the people, either:

[the LORD said to Moses] “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”

But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”

The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

(verses 18–23)


So Moses does as he is commanded. First, he gathers seventy of Israel’s elders, and brings them to stand around the Tend of Meeting. (Verse 24 just says “had them stand around the Tent,” and I assume that means the Tent of Meeting.) The LORD comes down in a cloud and speaks with him, and then takes some of the Spirit that was “on” Moses, and put it on the elders.

Verse 25 then has an interesting problem for the people who tried to translate from Hebrew into English: It can either be translated “When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again,” or it can be translated “When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied and continued to do so.” In a situation like that, when the original wording in Hebrew can be rendered in two ways—in this case, two ways that are actually opposite to each other!—how do you translate it into English? Of course, in this case, even if we were reading the original Hebrew text, the problem would remain…

You might be wondering, at this point—if you haven’t already read the text, which, really, you should have—if this would make Moses jealous. Now that the LORD has taken some of His Spirit off of Moses, and given it to others, will Moses feel slighted? Not at all:

However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

(verses 26–30)


As a child of God, this is the perfect response for Moses to have. The Spirit that has been given to him, he seems to consider to be a responsibility, rather than a proof that he is somehow better than his fellow Israelites. This is one example of Moses’ humility.

After all of this, the LORD sends a wind, which drives quail from the sea to the Israelites. In fact, He sends so much quail that it covers the entire camp, to a depth of a metre! The Israelites go out and gather it up, and begin to eat. However, the LORD is still angry with them for wanting it in the first place, so “while the meat [is] still between their teeth and before it [can] be consumed” (verse 33), He strikes the people with a plague. Again, it is not specified if anyone dies from the plague, and, if so, how many. Because of this, the people name the place “Kibroth Hattaavah,” which means “graves of craving.”

Thoughts

I quoted verses 11–15 above, when Moses complains to the LORD. I always get a bit uncomfortable, when Moses talks to the LORD this way. I get a bit worried that the LORD is not going to take such talk from a mere mortal—someone that He Himself has created! “Who is Moses to question the LORD?” I think to myself. However, the LORD usually—or always?—takes it very well. Which might mean one or all of the following:

  • The LORD is very patient with Moses, and understands where he is coming from
  • There are cultural issues that I don’t understand, and what Moses is saying to God, in the context of his culture, isn’t as confrontational as it seems to my twentieth century self
  • The LORD does rebuke Moses, and it’s just not captured in the text in the Bible
I don’t see any clues, at least in this chapter, that any of these things are happening. I’m just trying to explain to myself what might be going on. It should also be noted, however, that the LORD is similarly patient with other people in the Bible, so His treatment of Moses here is obviously in His character. (For example, see Elijah’s discussion with Him, in 1 Kings 19:9–18.)

When Moses questions the LORD about how He is going to provide meat for the people, it reminds me of the disciples questioning Jesus, in Mark 8:1–10, about providing food for the 4,000. He had already fed the 5,000, in Mark 6:30–44, and yet the disciples still didn’t know how he could possibly feed so many people.

When it comes to the LORD’s anger with the people, when they crave meat, I think it has more to do with their attitude, than their desire for meat. They’re not satisfied with what He has provided them, and want their own way—even though they know that their lives in Egypt were worse than their lives in the desert. Any time we think our ways are better than the LORD’s ways, we’re begging for trouble.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Numbers 10

Numbers 10: The silver trumpets; the Israelites break camp

Synopsis

In Numbers 2, the LORD had outlined how the Israelites were to arrange themselves, when the LORD brought them to a new location. This chapter is the opposite of that, as it is the first time the Israelites are leaving a camp, to go somewhere else.

But first, the LORD gives Moses instructions for making two trumpets, out of silver, to be used for “calling the community together and for having the camps set out” (verse 2). He also outlines some rules, as to how the trumpets are to be used:

When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. If only one is sounded, the leaders—the heads of the clans of Israel—are to assemble before you. When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out. The blast will be the signal for setting out. To gather the assembly, blow the trumpets, but not with the same signal.

The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies. Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the LORD your God.

(verses 3–10)


After having given these instructions, God instructs the Israelites to leave their camp, by lifting the cloud of His presence from the Tabernacle. So the Israelites break camp, and set out, as instructed. (The text doesn’t specifically mention it, but I assume that Aaron’s sons blew the trumpets, as instructed.) Verses 14–28 list the order in which people set out.

As they are leaving, Moses asks his father-in-law, Hobab, whether he’d like to accompany the Israelites. Hobab initially says no, but Moses tries to talk him into it:

But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the desert, and you can be our eyes. If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the LORD gives us.” (verses 31–32)

It seems odd to me that Moses would be worried about Hobab telling the Israelites where to camp; wasn’t that God’s job? In any event, the text leaves the discussion there, implying that Hobab agrees to go with Moses. (I’m almost positive that he doesn’t, though; if I remember correctly—which I may not—he’ll accompany them for a while, and then go back home.)

The chapter ends with some ceremony:

Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,
  “Rise up, O LORD!
  May your enemies be scattered;
  may your foes flee before you.”

Whenever it came to rest, he said,
  “Return, O LORD,
  to the countless thousands of Israel.”

(verses 35–36)

Thoughts

Verse 9 presents an interesting choice of words, by the LORD:

When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies. (emphasis added)

What does God mean, when He says that He will “remember” the Israelites? Was there ever a chance that He would forget them? I looked the verse up in other translations (I just randomly picked NASB, KJV, ESV, and ASV), and they all phrased it similar to “so that you may be remembered before the LORD.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have any learning in ancient Hebrew, so I can’t look into the original text, and find the nuances of meaning. Surely, what it can’t mean, is that God would occasionally forget about His people, and have to be reminded about them. My guess is that this is something similar to prayer; aside from the language being used, and the word “remember,” I think the trumpets are like a form of prayer. “If you’re going into battle,” God says to the Israelites, “blow on the trumpets to ask for my help.” When I see it being phrased as being “remembered by the LORD,” I get a sense of the Israelites being brought to “the front of God’s mind,” if I may phrase it like that.

By the way, I keep using the phrase “the cloud of God’s presence” to refer to the pillar of cloud/fire that rested over the Tabernacle, but that’s a phrase that I coined, not one from the text. I suppose I could probably just say “the cloud,” and you would know what I meant, but I’ve chosen to be more explicit about it.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Numbers 9

Numbers 9: The Passover is celebrated; The LORD’s presence over the Tabernacle

Synopsis

In previous chapters, the LORD had given Moses and the people rules for celebrating the Passover. This chapter documents one such celebration. Verse 1 says that this is taking place in “the second year after [the Israelites] came out of Egypt,” and yet it seems to be the first celebration of the Passover.

In any event, since they already have the rules and regulations for how to celebrate the Passover, the LORD simply tells Moses to have the Israelites celebrate it “at the appointed time” (verse 2)—there is no need to go into any details. Moses so commands the Israelites, and they celebrate the Passover, as instructed.

Unfortunately, some of the Israelites are not allowed to celebrate the Passover, because they’re ceremonially unclean (because of a dead body). So they ask Moses what they should do. Actually, they seem a bit demanding, to me, but it might be because of the translation:

So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the LORD’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?” (verses 6b–7)

In any event, whatever their tone might have been, Moses gives a wise answer:

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the LORD commands concerning you.” (verse 8)

The LORD’s answer to Moses is this: Whenever Israelites are not able to celebrate the Passover, because of ceremonial uncleanness, they are to wait one month, and then celebrate it. Normally, Passover was to start on the fourteenth day of the first month, but if Israelites were unclean on that day, they would wait until the fourteenth day of the second month. The same rule would apply if an Israelite was unable to celebrate the Passover because he was travelling on the first month; when he got back, he would celebrate Passover on the second month. Other than the time, all other rules for celebrating the Passover still applied.

The LORD also reiterates the punishment for someone who is able to celebrate the Passover, but doesn’t:

But if a man who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people because he did not present the LORD’s offering at the appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin. (verse 13)

Aliens living among the Israelites who wanted to celebrate the Passover would be allowed to do so, but they had to follow all of the same rules that the Israelites followed.

After this, the rest of the chapter talks about the cloud—the presence of the LORD—which covered the Tabernacle day and night. I’ll simply quote this part (even though it’s long):

On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out. They obeyed the LORD’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses. (verses 15–23)

This passage always fascinated me; the LORD is showing physical evidence of His presence with the Israelites: a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.

Thoughts

The theme of this chapter seems to be “the Israelites do as the LORD commands them.” He instructs them to celebrate the Passover, and they do; He leads them around the desert, and they follow, as they’re supposed to.

The Israelites had problems obeying the LORD, throughout the years, but at this point in their history, one thing they didn’t have a problem with was believing that there was a God. They knew there was, because they could see Him—or, at least, a manifestation of Him.