Monthly Archives: February 2017

From slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 25

Yahweh had repeatedly told Israel not to have anything to do with the people of Canaan and their gods. The first law he gave Israel as his chosen people, who he had freed from slavery, was to stay away from the worship of anyone or anything as god. He had reminded them of his power and mercy and that he was Yahweh, their God. He told them who he is – the third person of the verb heyah “To Be”. Whether in the first or third person the word expresses our God as THE (one and only) Self-existent One responsible for all existence including his own –the great I AM. As David Guzik says, “The first commandment logically flowed from understanding who God was and what He had done for Israel. Because of that, nothing was to come before God and He was the only God we worship and serve.”[1] It has always been tempting to worship the gods of materialism – Baal in the ancient world was the god of weather, and financial success; and sex.

Yahweh had just given Israel victory over the Canaanite king of Arad and the Amorites and given them water from a well to show them that they would be able to get water in the Promised Land. In spite of that, and everything else Yahweh had been doing to demonstrate his power and authority to his people, the men traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god humans made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us, as Paul said. [2]

The women of Moab invited the men to their sex and religion worship and they went. They ate with them and then worshiped their gods. They worshiped the Baal of Peor. The Mayo clinic advice not to jeopardize one’s health or that of others by putting one’s self into situations where one will be tempted to engage in risky sexual practices[3] wasn’t available to them; but they had something better. They had the instructions of their God, Yahweh.

Without intimacy, the physical union is destructive. Yahweh created man male and female. He gave them their function as one, not divided[4]. Yeshua said, “Haven’t you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? Because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh—no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart.”[5] Adultery destroys the perfect artwork of the Creator, our God, Yahweh.

Israel’s actions were an insult to their God and their women. They deliberately did their God, Yahweh, wrong and he expressed his negative feelings toward them with an immediate solution to the problem. He told Moses to take the leaders and hang them – and leave their dead bodies for Israel to see that deliberate sin has terrible consequences.

Moses ordered the judges to enforce the law. “The necessity for law enforcement comes from creating the law in the first place, which seeks to establish a set of stipulated rules for society to function without crime and chaos. The purpose of law enforcement is to minimize the violation of these rules and diminish social disobedience.”[6] Yahweh had to teach his people by example how to enforce his laws.

When law enforcement went into action Israel begin to weep in remorse, congregating at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. One of the Israelite men took his Midianite woman into his family tent right in front of everyone, boasting of his behavior.

The son of Eleazar the priest – Aaron’s’ grandson and a priest himself – saw what was going on and grabbed his spear. He followed the criminals into the tent and executed prompt justice. When we consider how he carried out that justice we must remember the time and place. The ancient people of Near East implemented their laws in a different way than we do today.

The continual trouble or distress that these crimes caused stopped at that. Nevertheless, 24,000 had already died. We don’t know what they all died of because the result of that kind of sin can be so violent that it could have been a number of things besides the hangings that caused the devastation.

What Phinehas did was the legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime and Yahweh honored it by stopping the deaths and making a covenant of peace with Phinehas and his descendants. His intentions were Yahweh-centered and his act was in accordance with the law and prevented other deaths and more of the painful circumstances of Canaanite evil.[7]

The narrator recorded the names of the man and woman who flaunted their depravity before the nation even after Moses had ordered the execution of the leaders of the lawbreakers. The woman was the daughter of a tribal chief indicating that the whole thing was a set up initiated by the leaders of Moab to get the Israelite men to sin against their God and their wives. Yahweh told Moses to never forget that Moab was Israel’s enemy.

 

Summary of chapter 25

While Israel abode in Shittim the men committed unlawful sex with the daughters of Moab. They also worshiped Baal with the women. They joined themselves to Baal and worshipped with obscene rites. Yahweh commanded the ringleaders to be hanged. Moses caused the judges to slay the transgressors. Zimri, one of the Israelite princes of the tribe of Simeon, brought a Midianite princess, named Cozbi, into his tent, while the people were deploring their iniquity before the tabernacle. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, was angered by the insult to the laws and worship of Yahweh and he ran after them and pierced them both with a javelin. Twenty-four thousand die of the result of these sins. Yahweh granted to Phinehas an eternal covenant of peace and everlasting priesthood. Yahweh commanded the Israelites to consider the Midianites their enemies forever.

Prayer: Lord, my heart is full of the joy of knowing you. I think of the way the world would be if there was no law to direct us and show us how we can have a productive and congenial society. I listen to the news that is so full of the horrible things that human beings do to each other and I am so glad that you have given us the promise of a future where that will never happen again. I want to praise you because
“Morning has broken,
like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken,
like the first bird
Praise for the singing,
praise for the morning
Praise for the springing
fresh from the word
Sweet the rain’s new fall,
sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall,
on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness
of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness
where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight,
mine is the morning
Born of the one light,
Eden saw play
Praise with elation,
praise every morning
God’s recreation
of the new day.”[8]

 

Things to think about

  1. Can you understand why the ancient Israelite men would have dropped their work and ignored their wives or mother’s pleas to go with the Moabite women when they invited them to celebrate with them?
  2. We have been told that our God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. We learn in Sunday school that “God is love” and he is our heavenly father. Do you think the Israelite men thought things like this: Our God, Yahweh, is all powerful. Our God, Yahweh is everywhere and will be going with us. Our God, Yahweh knows everything and that means he can read our hearts and know how we are feeling about these Moabite women? When temptation knocks on your personal door, do you think of Yahweh and his love and mercy? Do you think that if the men would have remembered that they were Yahweh’s chosen people that they would have gone wit the women?
  3. Yahweh had told his people not to have anything to do with the people of Canaan. Why do you think the Moabite women were welcome to walk among them in close enough contact to invite them to their celebration?
  4. Do you think the men had already forgotten what Yahweh taught them about sex and intimacy? Do you think their leaders had failed to teach them what Yahweh said? Do you think it was their parents who had failed to teach the children? Since humans were created in the image of Yahweh – have his character imbedded in our being – do you think their own minds – conscious – could have told the mem they were doing wrong?
  5. How does compulsive sex relate to sin of the Israelite men?

6, Do you think the Israelite men would have been able to see how destructive their actions were without the intervention of Yahweh through Moses and Phinehas?

  1. What did you learn about the character of your God, Yahweh, through this incident?

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you; collect my counsels and guard them with your life. Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom; set your heart on a life of Understanding. That’s right—if you make Insight your priority, and won’t take no for an answer, searching for it like a prospector panning for gold, or like an adventurer on a treasure hunt – believe me, before you know it Fear-of-Yahweh will be yours; and you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of Yahweh. Yahweh gives out Wisdom free, he is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding. He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well, and a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere. He keeps his eye on all who live honestly, and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones. So now you can pick out what’s true and fair, find all the good trails! Lady Wisdom will be your close friend, and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion. Good Sense will scout ahead for danger, and Insight will keep an eye out for you. They’ll keep you from making wrong turns, or following the bad directions of those who are lost themselves and can’t tell a trail from a tumbleweed, – these losers who make a game of evil and throw parties to celebrate perversity, while they travel paths that go nowhere, wandering in a maze of detours and dead ends. Wise friends will rescue you from the Temptress—that smooth-talking Seductress who’s faithless to the husband she married years ago, and never gave a second thought to her promises before God. Her whole way of life is doomed; and every step she takes brings her closer to hell. No one who joins her company ever comes back, ever sets foot on the path to real living. So—join the company of good men and women, and keep your feet on the tried-and-true paths. The men who walk straight will settle this land, and the women with integrity will last here. The corrupt will lose their lives; and the dishonest will be gone for good[9].

[1] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/guz/exodus-20.html

[2] Romans 1:24, 25

[3] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/compulsive-sexual-behavior/basics/prevention/con-20020126; Consequences of compulsive sexual behaviors can vary with some being similar to that seen in other addictive disorders while others are unique. Medically, patients are at a higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and for physical injuries due to repetitive sexual practices. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis B and C, syphilis, and gonorrhea are particularly concerning consequences. Virtually unknown is the percentage of those individuals with STDs who meet criteria for compulsive sexual disorders. Another significant consequence is the loss of time and productivity. The psychological consequences are numerous. Effects on the family and interpersonal relationships can be profound. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2945841/

[4] Genesis 1:27; 2:7

[5] Matthew 19:6

[6] http://legalbeagle.com/7467391-mean-enforce-law.html

[7] https://www.knowingthebible.net/the-extermination-of-the-canaanites

[8] http://www.oystermouthparish.com/hymns-we-love-morning-has-broken The hymn originally appeared in the second edition of Songs of Praise (published in 1931), to the tune “Bunessan”, composed in the Scottish Islands. In Songs of Praise Discussed, the editor, Percy Dearmer, explains that as there was need for a hymn to give thanks for each day, English poet and children’s author Eleanor Farjeon had been “asked to make a poem to fit the lovely Scottish tune”.

[9] Proverbs 2

From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 24

Balaam didn’t bother trying to manipulate Yahweh when he got to the new vantage point and looked out over the wilderness to Israel camped according to the plan of Yahweh. He realized that all the magic spells in the book wasn’t going to sway the great I AM – Reality behind all reality. He may not have liked it but it was finally obvious that Yahweh is sovereign over the universe and nothing will ever prevent him from keeping his promises.

At least at that moment, he bowed to the will of Yahweh; and the Spirit of the Supreme Being of the world, and all that is, spoke through him without preamble. Yahweh was in control of the spirit of the words he spoke but they were uttered by Balaam and made him a part of the truth he spoke. His vision was finally clear and he saw that Yahweh is Sovereign over everyone and everything. He confessed this before Balak and his minions and stated that he was expressing Yahweh’s words in deferential obedience. He told them that he saw[1] clearly now that Jacob’s tents were beautiful and Israel’s homes were valleys stretching out in the distance like gardens planted by rivers of water or sweet herbs planted by the gardener of Yahweh. He said they were like red cedars by pools and springs so that they would always have plenty of water and they would spread seeds everywhere.

Agag (/ˈeɪɡæɡ/; Hebrew: אֲגַג‎‎ ʾĂḡāḡ, Arabic: يأجوج‎‎, meaning “high” in Northwest Semitic language) is a Northwest Semitic name or title applied to a biblical king. It has been suggested that “Agag” was a dynastic name of the kings of Amalek, just as Pharaoh was used as a dynastic name for the ancient Egyptians.[[2] Balaam told Balak and his men that the King[3] of Israel would tower over Agag and those like him and their kingdom would be more majestic and above all others. Yahweh reminded Balak and his people that he brought Israel out of Egypt with the strength of an ox. He had no trouble chewing his enemies up and swallowing them[4]. He said that Israel was like the king of beasts who no one dared disturb. Then he summed it up by say that whoever blessed Israel was blessed and whoever cursed Israel was cursed.

Israel’s future looked wonderful. Balaam was saying that the large nation coming into Canaan was going to have a prosperous and flourishing future with a king who would rule over everyone. That really made Balak mad and he shook his fist at Balaam and yelled at him. He told him that he had brought him there to curse his enemies and instead he had blessed them. He told him he could go home without any pay and he could blame Yahweh for that.

Balaam repeated that he had told Balak and his emissaries from the first that he couldn’t say anything on his own even if Balak was to give him his palace stuffed with silver and gold. He said he would go home but before he left he warned them what Israel was going to do to Balak and his people in the coming days.

He announced the future with the eyes of a man who saw spiritual things clearly, heard godly speech and who knew what Yahweh was doing in the future. He said that a star would rise from Jacob – a scepter from Israel. He would crush the heads of Moab and Edom; and Seir would be as if they were slaves sold at auction while Israel walked off with the trophies of victory. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon worded Balaam’s prophesy this way: “I shall see him, but not now. This is David – I shall behold him, but not nigh. This is the king Messiah – A Star shall come out of Jacob. This is David – And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel. This is the king Messiah – And shall smite the corners of Moab. This is David, (as it is written, Sa2 8:2: And he smote Moab, casting them down to the ground) – And shall destroy all the children of Sheth. This is the king Messiah, of whom it is written, (Psa 72:8), He shall have dominion from sea to sea.”[5]

Balaam exposed Amalek’s future in his message from Yahweh. He told them that they may have been the first among nations at that time but they would be ruined.

Then he gave his attention to the Kenites[6] and told them that their nice secure homes wouldn’t help them when Assyria took them prisoner.

Balaam’s final words included everyone, the Holy Spirit of Yahweh told everyone through Balaam’s mouth that the fate of anyone who he didn’t bless was the same – any civilization in organized rebellion against him. The raiders from across the sea who raided Assyria and the regions beyond[7] would come to nothing like all the rest. History confirms that all these nations faded into the past but Israel is still here.

Balaam[8] returned home and Balak and his cronies went there way. Balaam’s name may mean “corrupter of the people” and if that is true, this Balaam may have gone home with a different name after his encounter with our living God, Yahweh. That man Balaam my have not been the same man named Balaam that is recorded in chapter 31 of Numbers and portions of the Epistles and the Revelation of John. It is quite possible that Balaam is a name that describes anyone who hired out to curse nations in that area and era.

Adam Clarke said that it appeared to be sufficiently evident to him that 1. Balaam knew and worshipped the true God. 2. That he had been a true prophet, and appears to have been in the habit of receiving oracles from God. 3. That he practiced some illicit branches of knowledge, or was reputed by the Moabites as a sorcerer, probably because of the high reputation he had for wisdom. 4. That though he was a believer in the true God, yet he was covetous; he loved the wages of unrighteousness. 5. That it does not appear that in the case before us he wished to curse Israel when he found they were the servants of the true God. 6. That it is possible he did not know this at first. 7. That he acted with a good conscious and as soon as he found it displeased God he offered to return and did not advance till he had the permission, and authority of God to proceed. 8. That when he came in view of the Israelite camp he did not attempt to make use of any means of sorcery, to accomplish the wish of Balak. 9. That he did seek to find out the will of the true God. 10. That though he knew it would greatly displease Balak, yet he most faithfully and firmly told him all that God said on every occasion. 11. That in spite of his covetous disposition he refused all suggested great honors and rewards to induce him to act in any respect contrary to the declared will of God. 12. That God on this occasion communicated to him some of the most extraordinary prophetic influences ever conferred on man. 13. That his prophecies are, upon the whole, clear and pointed, and have been fulfilled in the most remarkable manner, and furnish a very strong argument in proof of Divine revelation. 14. That in spite of the wicked counsel given to the Midianites the badness of his character has been very far overrated and that he risked even life itself in following and fulfilling the will of the Lord. 15. That, though it is expressly asserted that Israel’s sin of whoredom with the daughters of Moab was brought about by the evil counsel given by Balaam to cast this stumbling-block in their way, it does not appear that he had the criminal intentions attributed to him. 16. I would therefore simply say that the counsel given by Balaam to Balak might have been “to form alliances with this people, especially through the medium of matrimonial connections; and seeing they could not conquer them, to endeavor to make them their friends.” 17. It was the Moabite women, not Balaam that called the people to the sacrifice of their gods.[9]

 

Summary of chapter 24

Balaam said that his spiritual eyes were closed but when he bowed to the will of Yahweh his spiritual eyes were opened and he saw the vision of the Almighty and heard the words of Yahweh.

This chapter recorded that the Spirit of Yahweh came upon Balaam and is the culmination of the Yahweh’s declaration of blessings for Israel through Balaam’s narrative. Its highpoint is the foretelling of the Star that would rise out of Jacob, an apparent reference to the Bright and Morning Star.[10] Jewish scholars read the passage as a promise of the Messiah. The first star was King David who defeated and subjugated Moab. Yahweh’s judgments on other nations besides Israel were included along with prophecies of the Chosen People.

 

Prayer: Lord, you are my god, my portion, and my love – my everlasting all. There is no one in heaven above, or on this earthly ball that compares to you. My joy is in you. You are the source of every earthly blessing including my health and friends. You are better than any glittery wealth that the world might have to offer. Lord, there have been times in my life when you spoke through me and acted through me in spite of the fact that I still live in this corrupted flesh. There have also been times when I allowed the corrupt desires of my human nature to control my actions. I realize that no human being is good – I am a sinner saved by your grace and any good that I have ever done is because you are my creator and savior and your character traits can produce good behavior in my life when I allow them to. I know that just as Balaam was a man with evil inclinations and you worked through him to declare your intentions to the world, you also speak through people today whose desires may not be holy. Help me to remember that only you can tell what is in the human heart and not try to make judgements about other people. It is my job to judge my own actions and desires and discipline them to do your will. I want to be a channel of your blessings to others, Lord. Lord, you are my god, my portion, and my love – my everlasting all.

 

 

Things to think about

  1. Do you think it took Balaam a long time to wake up spiritually? Is it always easy to see the world from the point of view of Yahweh? Do you ever have trouble seeing the spiritual world in the jumble of the physical? Which is more significant to your daily life?
  2. What do you think happened to Balaam to change his approach from invoking the spirits of nature to sway the creator of nature, to yielding to the will of the creator of nature?
  3. What did Balaam mean when he said his eyes were closed? What do you think opened Balaam’s eyes so he could see what Yahweh was doing?
  4. Did Balaam see Israel as it was, camped in tents – on the way to the Promised Land?
  5. Who do you think the star, which he saw with his spiritual eyes, was?
  6. Do you think Balaam could have had an insight into the future for Israel according to the will of Yahweh, speak Yahweh’s prophesies to the nations, and then tell the Moabites to tempt them to sin?
  7. Is it possible for you and me today to be used by our God in a mighty way and later ignore him and go after earthly desires?

[1] Israel’s future, according to the perfect will of our God, Yahweh

[2] Cox 1884, p. 110. Jump up^ J. D. Douglas; Merrill C. Tenney (3 May 2011). Moisés Silva, ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Harper Collins. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-310-49235-1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agag

[3] Yahweh was to be Israel’s king

[4] This was Balaam’s expression of the word of Yahweh spoken in the parlance of the day.

[5] http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/clarke/num024.htm

[6] Possibly Midianites who had accompanied Israel as they left Egypt and later separated from them. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9279-kenites

[7] The Greek and Roman Empires http://biblehub.com/commentaries/jfb/numbers/24.htm

[8] It may be that Balaam serves in the Bible as the personification of divination and the reading of omen, that is the art of harvesting the environment for clues about the way things work without actually having to go through the trouble of learning to understand reality. Divination degenerates nature to a manipulable device with a few buttons, and separates the diviner and his audience from their rightful place in nature and ultimately from God. http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Balaam.html#.WK28a_krLIU

[9] http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/clarke/num024.htm

[10] Revelation 22:16; II Corinthians 4:6

From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 23

Balaam stood on the heights of Baal and ordered seven – the number of perfection or completion – altars to be built and seven rams and seven sheep prepared for offerings.

Balak had them prepared and sacrificed a bull and a ram on each altar[1]. Then Balaam told Balak to stand watch by the offering while he went by himself to see if Yahweh would meet with him. He condescended to tell Balak that he would report to him what Yahweh said. He went off by his self and began casting spells that he assumed would exert powerful influence over Yahweh.

Yahweh did meet with Balaam and Balaam bragged that he had built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each. Remember that the ancients were in the habit of bribing their gods with sacrifices.

Yahweh told him to return to Balak with a message from him so he returned and told Balak and all the nobles of Moab what Yahweh said.

Under the power of the Holy Spirit of Yahweh he said that Balak had sent all the way to Aram (present day Syria) in the eastern mountains to bring Balaam back to Moab and curse Israel. He asked Balak and his nobles how he could curse a nation that God had not cursed or damn Israel when Yahweh did not damn them. He said he saw them from the heights where Balak led him. He saw that they would always be preserved as a distinct nation, thinking of themselves outsiders among the nations. He said there were so many of them that trying to count them would be like trying to count particles of dust. He concluded his speech about Yahweh’s chosen people by saying that they were a righteous people and he would be honored if he should leave life with the future Israel had. “Let me die the death of innocent people. Let my end be like theirs.”[2]

Balak was upset and chastised Balaam for blessing Israel instead of cursing them but Balaam reminded him that he had been careful to warn him that he had to speak the words Yahweh put in his mouth to speak.

Balak thought maybe if Balaam could only see the outskirts of the Israelite’s camp it would give him courage to curse them for him, so he took him to Watchmen’s Meadow at the top of Mount Pisgah and built seven altars there. He burned a ram and bull on each one.

Balaam told him to take up his station and he would meet with Yahweh by his self again. He cast more magic spells that would surely influence Yahweh’s decision, and again Yahweh sent him back to Balak with a message.

Balaam returned and told Balak and the Moabite noblemen that Yahweh said for Balak to stand up and listen carefully. He called him the son of the bird and may have been referring to the magical metal bird that the Kabalah says he carried on his shoulder and trusted in for prophesy and spiritual guidance. Yahweh told Balak, through the mouth of Balaam, that he is not a man given to lies or changing his mind. He told Balak that he said what he meant and did what he said he would do – and never made promises that he didn’t keep. He would keep his promises to his chosen people. Then Balaam told Balak that he was brought to Balak to bless Yahweh’s people – Yahweh blessed them and Balaam couldn’t change it. He further told Balak that Yahweh had no vision of misfortune or trouble for his chosen people. Balaam told Balak and his people that Yahweh was with Israel and they were with him, shouting praises to their King who brought them out of Egypt. Balaam said, “No magic spells can bind Jacob, and no incantations can hold back Israel. People will look at Jacob and Israel and say, “What a great thing has God done!” Look, a people raising to its feet, stretching like a lion, like a king-of-the-beasts, aroused, not sleeping, and not resting until its hunt is over and it’s eaten and drunk its fill.”

Balak implored Balaam to shut up. He said, “If you can’t curse them, at least don’t bless them.”

Balaam reminded Balak that he had told him earlier that all God spoke and only what he spoke Balaam would speak.

Balak tried again. Perhaps he could change Yahweh’s mind with more sacrifices from a different vantage point. He took Balaam to the top of Mount Peor where he would be looking at Israel over the wasteland to see if he could curse Yahweh’s chosen people from there.

They repeated the exercise with the seven altars and seven rams and bulls on that mountain

Balaam had been trying to get Yahweh to change his mind by using sorcery the same way that people today use what they call prayers that are supposed to influence God. People today use prayers in the same way Balaam used magic spells. They pass them around on Facebook, or in churches, with the promise that if the recipient will just say these words it will bring them good luck – happiness, money and power, or even dispel old curses. Well-meaning preachers of the gospel promise that if the hearer will repeat a prayer after them they will be saved. Yahweh reads our hearts and he knew Balaam’s heart was full of greed but he used him to declare his blessing on his chosen people in the presence of Israel’s enemies.

 

Summary of chapter 23

When they arrived at the high places of Baal Balaam ordered Balak to build seven altars and prepare oxen and rams for sacrifice. Balaam inquired of Yahweh, received an answer which he returned and repeated to Balak. When Balak, found that this was a prediction of the prosperity of the Israelites, he was greatly troubled. Balaam excused himself and Balak took him to another place, where he could only see a part of Israel, and repeated his sacrifices. Balaam again consulted Yahweh and returned with his answer, and again predicted the glory of Israel. Balak was angry and Balaam again excused himself. Balak proposed another trial and took him to another place where he repeated the same sacrifices.

 

Prayer: Lord, when your Kingdome comes your purpose will be achieved on Earth just as it is in Heaven. Secret things belong to you, but you have revealed to us that righteousness, joy, and peace in your Holy Spirit are the substance of your Kingdom. I will harmonize my actions and words to your will not merely out of duty but because I want to serve you with all my heart – because I am delighted to follow your commandments. Lord, I pray in agreement with Mark and Jill Herringshaw. Your word in Isaiah 55:9, says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” In response to your word I say, “I thank you for being above me and knowing what is best for me.” In this life, we are all searching for our purpose and asking for your will to be done. Nevertheless, let us not be blindsided and naive to think that as we ask, so we are ready for it to be revealed and respond accordingly. I pray for your family that as each of us comes to a point in our lives where we dare to ask you to reveal your will for us, that you would put us in a place of acceptance of what you reveal to us. I admit that, for myself, it may not be what I want, but it will surely be what I need in order to live a life fully invested in you. When fear attempts to consume me, be the destroyer of the fear by your perfect love for I know it casts out all fear. When you see that I am tempted to turn back and ignore your will, chasten my spirit and help me to see that you only want the best for me. Help me to realize that anything you bring into my life and anything you reveal to me is for my good. Give me a spirit of acceptance and a heart open to your move in my life. Most of all Lord, don’t let me ever get so caught up in seeking you out for a revelation that I forget to seek you, for you. Help me to always desire to be with you above all things. I seek your kingdom first and let everything else be added after that. I will let your love surround me and, by your word, cast out any fear or doubts. Help me to live in love with you, accept your will for my life and give me the proper response to your revelation.[3]

 

 

Things to think about

  1. Balaam cast spells that he thought would influence Yahweh’s decision. Do you think there is ever a time when our prayers can sway Yahweh’s decisions? What is it about Yahweh’s character that influenced your answer?
  2. The greatest mistake Balak and Balaam made, in their efforts to get power over Israel, was that they got Yahweh’s character confused with their man-made gods. Can you think of incidents in your life today where you or others have done the same thing?
  3. Balaam told Balak that Israel would always be a distinct nation and consider their selves a people apart. Did history validate that statement?
  4. Yeshua/Jesus taught his followers that our Heavenly Father delights to give us what we ask for[4]. Another time he told them that if they asked anything in his name[5] he will do it. Do you think asking “in Jesus name” will get you anything you want? Would Yahweh have changed his mind and let Balaam curse his chosen people if he had been able to “pray in Jesus name”? Eugene Peterson wording of what Yeshua said makes it plain that “in “Jesus name” aren’t magic words that will get us what we want without regard to Yahweh’s will. He said, “From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it.” Think about that.
  5. Why did Yahweh bless his chosen people? For what did he choose them? Are you and I chosen people?[6] What is the difference between us today, and the nation of Israel in those days?
  6. Why do you think Balak thought that if he took Balaam to another vantage point that he would be able to curse Yahweh’s people? Why do you think Balaam went with him? Was his purpose in going different from Yahweh’s purpose in his going?
  7. Do you think that Balak really listened to what Yahweh was saying to him through the speech of Balaam? Do you think that he realized that Yahweh was the God of the universe – its creator and sustainer? Do we always remember that we are talking to the Supreme Being when we pray to Yahweh? How would it change our prayers if we did? Would we have more peace?[7]

 

[1] Blessing and cursing in this way were thought of as religious rites, and therefore must be always heralded by sacrifice.

[2] He wished that when he came to die he might be as sure as they were that Yahweh would bless and multiply their seed, and make their name to be glorious in the earth.

[3]http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/prayerplainandsimple/2010/03/prayer-for-accepting-gods-will.html

[4] Matthew 7:9: Luke 11:8-13

[5] John 14:13

[6] John 15:16

[7] Philippians 4:4-7

From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 22

That great assembly of Israelites camped in the plains of Moab at Jordan-Jericho put a king of Moab called Balak (the devastator) in a panic. He and his people knew about Israel’s defeat of the Amorites and were afraid to attack them but were troubled they would drain all the resources of the land with their large numbers.

The Moabites deliberated with their Midianite allies in order to block Israelite settlement, and Balak, the son of Zippor, sent representatives to Balaam, son of Beor. According to the basic text of the Kabalah, “The Son of Zippor” (ציפור) means “bird” and referred to a magical metal bird of which Balak made use. It had a gold head, a silver mouth, and copper wings mixed with silver. Its body was made of gold. The bird started talking and telling the future after it was put through the proper ritual. Only the most skilled wizard was able to construct such a bird and Balak was the greatest wizard of his age. The bird was always sitting on Balak’s shoulder and whispering in his ear, and therefore he was nicknamed “Son of the Bird”.[1]

However, the narrator wrote that Balak sent for Balaam and if Balak was a great wizard he wouldn’t have had to send for Balaam who lived on the banks of the Euphrates River. Biblical historians believe that Balaam descended from a line of diviners whose reputation for cursing had spread over the whole region. Balak’s delegation to Balaam had to travel about 400 miles to petition the mystic at his home. Scholars deduce Balaam’s “family business” was jinxing from his wide reputation as well as the meaning of his and his father’s names. Balaam means “devourer of the people” because his livelihood depended on cursing various people(s). His father’s name, Beor, “burning” identified him as destructive. Balaam had a reputation for being the strongest magician of the time so Balak sent his emissaries, with money, to explain that a great number of people who came out of Egypt were pressing hard on Balak’s lands and were too much for him to handle. He needed Balaam to return with his ambassadors so he could curse Israel.[2]

According to Jacob Isaacs “Thinking of the surprising victories of the outnumbered troops of the Jewish people Balak came to the conclusion that these victories could only be attributed to some form of magic. He believed that the only way to destroy the victorious Jews was to outdo them in magic by a spell stronger than theirs.”[3]

Balaam knew he couldn’t take the money to curse Israel unless Yahweh gave him permission, so he told the emissaries to wait till morning. His reputation indicates that he was sensitive to influences or forces of a nonphysical or supernatural nature. He had probably been in the habit of using sympathetic magic to convince the people that he cursed that they were doomed.[4] However he was also aware of the care that Yahweh had given to his chosen people through the years. The ancients were aware that there was more to life than the physical world. They couldn’t see their thoughts or emotions and didn’t try to deny them. They realized that they were spiritual as well as physical beings.[5] They had a sense of connection to something bigger than themselves and a greater meaning in life than just what is physical.[6] Balaam probably capitalized on that and used intellectual tricks that are sometimes called magic to manipulate physical events. However, he knew better than to try to go against the creator and sustainer of the universe so he waited for Yahweh[7]’s permission before he consented to the Moabites request. He probably thought that his great powers of persuasion would make it possible for him to convince Yahweh to submit to his wishes.

However Yahweh went to Balaam that night and asked him what those men were doing there. Balaam explained who they were, where they came from, and what they wanted. Yahweh told Balaam not to go with them and not to curse his chosen people so Balaam got up the next morning and sent the Moabites away.

Balak didn’t give up. He sent a more impressive group of representatives with the promise of great reward and honor for his services. The trouble was that Balaam had decided that Yahweh was his God and he knew that Yahweh was too powerful to ignore. He told the delegates that even Balak’s house stuffed with silver and gold wouldn’t be enough to give him the power to defy Yahweh. However, the temptation was great so he told the Moabites to stay the night and he would see if Yahweh could be persuaded. Yahweh can’t be manipulated but Balaam was like most people and thought he would try. He was thinking of using Yahweh to get prosperity, good fortune, wealth, health and happiness. Peter said that he was actually a prophet who turned profiteer.[8] Yahweh gave him over to his lusts[9]. He knew Balaam’s heart and told him to go with the Moabite representatives but not to curse Israel.

Balaam got up in the morning and saddled his donkey so he could accompany the noblemen from Moab, giving both his self and the Moabite men that the hope that Yahweh might be persuaded to let him curse his chosen people. He was stepping out in faith but it was misplaced faith. Faith in Yahweh would have told him to send the Moabites home the first day and not give the seed of doubt in the righteousness of Yahweh to take root.

An angel of mercy stood with a sword in the road to block his way as he traveled with two of his servants. The donkey saw the angel and turned off the road into a ditch; however, Balaam’s spiritual eyes were blinded[10] by the mental images of the riches he was hoping to acquire and he didn’t see the angel. He beat his animal and got it back on the road, but as they were going through a vineyard with a stone fence on either side the donkey saw the angel again and turned into a fence. Balaam’s foot was crushed against the fence and he lost his temper and hit the donkey again. The next time the angel of mercy blocked the way they were on a very narrow passage with nowhere to turn off so the donkey sat down under Balaam who lost his temper and beat the animal with a stick.

Yahweh gave the donkey speech and she asked Balaam why he beat her. Balaam was so angry that he answered her – he told her that if he had a sword he would have killed her. The donkey reminded Balaam that she was his trustworthy animal – predictable for years. She asked him if she had ever done anything unpredictable before and of course he said, “No” admitting that the donkey was right and he was wrong.

The scales of greed fell off his eyes and he saw what the Angel of Yahweh with the sword blocking the way. He fell on his face and the angel asked him why he had beaten his poor donkey three times. The angel told Balaam that he had been there to block his way because he was going the wrong way in a rash manner. The Angel of Yahweh told Balaam that if the donkey hadn’t turned aside those three times he would have killed him – Balaam – but the donkey would have lived.

Balaam admitted that he had sinned but was hesitant about turning around and going back – away from his sin – truly repenting. Than the Angel of Yahweh warned him, Balaam, not to say anything but what he, Yahweh, put in his mouth but let him go on his way with Balak’s men.[11]

When Balak heard that Balaam was on his way he rushed to the border of his land to meet him. He chided him for not running to his assistance immediately when he sent an urgent message for help.

Balaam told Balak that although he had come he could only say the words that Yahweh put in his mouth.[12]

They went to a town called Kiriath Huzoth where Balak slaughtered sheep and cattle for sacrifices and presented them to Balaam and the nobles who were with him. Then as the sun was coming up he took Balaam up to the Heights of Baal to give him a good view of the people.

 

Summary of chapter 22

The Israelites pitched their tents in the plains of Moab – land that had formerly belonged to the Moab people, but had been taken from them by Sihon, king of the Amorites. Balak, king of Moab, was greatly terrified; and sent to Balaam, a diviner, to come and curse them. The elders of Moab took a reward and carried it to Balaam. He told them to spend the night so he could ask Yahweh, who positively ordered him not to go with them. Balaam communicated this to the elders of Moab who returned to Balak with the information. Balak sent some of his princes to Balaam with promises of great honor and Balaam again consulted Yahweh. He was permitted to go under certain conditions. Balaam set off, and was opposed by the Angel of Yahweh, who miraculously opened the mouth of his ass to reprove him. Balaam saw the angel, and was reproved by him. He humbled himself, and reluctantly offered to go back, but was ordered to proceed, on the same conditions as before. The king of Moab hurried out to meet him and reproofed him for not coming to his aid sooner. Balaam told him that he was there but couldn’t say anything that Yahweh didn’t put in his mouth to say. Balak sacrificed to his god, and Balaam participated in the meal. Balak took Balaam to the high places of Baal, so that he could see the whole of the Israelite camp.[13]

 

Prayer: Lord, it is always so easy for human beings to make plans and tell you to bless them or decide what is best and explain the way it should be worked out. Help me to remember in everything that I do that you are my God and I am your dependent and subordinate. I am walking under your yoke with you carrying the load and directing the way we walk. You are wisdom and I need you to show me the way. When I walk by your side and step in time with your steps I don’t have to know how to get through the waters and fire or over the mountains to the still waters because you know the way. You are my blessing forever and the joy of my life.

 

 

Things to think about

  1. To the ancients Balak’s decision to fight magic with magic was wise. Paul told the Corinthians that if they thought they were wise in that age they should become fools so they could become wise.[14] What do you think he meant and how do you think what Paul said relates to Balak?
  2. Did Balak and the Midianites have a reason to be afraid of the Israelites? Of what were they afraid? Did they acknowledge the power behind Israel’s victories?
  3. Do you think the people of that country knew that Yahweh had told Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph that he would bless those who blessed Israel and curse those who cursed Israel?
  4. Do you think that Balaam knew Yahweh? He said Yahweh was his God so he couldn’t curse Israel if Yahweh told him not to. Does that mean that he was a servant of Yahweh’s? Was he a faithful servant?
  5. Balaam wanted to convince Yahweh to change his mind and bless him financially. He desired money and power. Would money and power have been a blessing for Balaam? Are they always a blessing for you and me today?
  6. Why did Balaam beat his faithful animal? What made him loose his temper? Do you and I today sometimes lose our perspective and temper in our desire to “get ahead” financially?
  7. Do you think Yahweh was using Balaams greed and ego to accomplish his will for Israel?

 

 

[1] Quoted by Rabbi Moshe Yazdi of Ahavat Yisrael Yeshiva, Jerusalem, in (Hebrew) commentaries on the Balak Weekly Torah Portion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balak

[2] http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PW/k/790/Prophecies-Balaam.htm

[3]http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/246644/jewish/Balaam-and-Balak.htm

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_(paranormal)

[5] Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, contends that “spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.

[6] https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/purpose/spirituality/what-spirituality

[7] I AM was here before the world and is ultimately here forever

[8] II Peter 2:15

[9]Psalm 81:12; Romans 1:24; II Thessalonians 2:10, 11

[10] The supposedly “spiritual” person is often blind to what the simple see plainly. http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PW/k/790/Prophecies-Balaam.htm

[11] The “angel of Yahweh” is the physical manifestation of Yahweh.

[12] Yahweh’s purpose through Israel could not be hindered.

[13] http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/clarke/num022.htm

[14] I Corinthians 3:10, 11, 16-23

From slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 21

 

The Canaanite king of Arad in the Negev (in the south) attacked Israel and took prisoners. Israel made a vow to Yahweh that if he would deliver the Canaanite people into their power that they would destroy everything as a holy destruction. We must remember that Israel lived in 1,200 BC and reflected the culture of that time. Yahweh had told them not to be buddies with the cultures of the land he was giving them.[1] When Canaan attacked them and they went to Yahweh for help, at least, some of them would have remembered Yahweh’s promise to give them the land; and that the land had vomited the Canaanites out because of their sin. The Canaanite people were an extremely violent people involved in and promoting idolatry, gang rape, bestiality, child sacrifice, and many other evil and grotesque practices.[2] Yahweh answered their supplication and they defeated Arad and named it Hormah which means Holy Destruction.

Israel set out from along the Red Sea Road, a detour around Edom. Yahweh wouldn’t have allowed them to go to war with Edom so they had to take a longer way around. They became petulant and cantankerous as they walked and spoke out against Yahweh and Moses. They asked Moses why he yanked them out of Egypt to die in that god-forsaken country. Since Yahweh was giving them manna, had given them water from the rock twice, and victory over their attacking enemies twice it would seem to the reader that their complaints were ridiculous. As Guy Winch says, “The constant negativity issuing forth from chronic complainers presents a huge challenge for those around them. And nothing makes chronic complainers happier than being more miserable than their friends. Trying to remain positive, motivated and productive amid a constant stream of complaints and dissatisfaction can try anyone’s patience.”[3] Any of the Israelites who were predisposed to have positive attitudes would have soon succumbed to negativity themselves under the pressure from the constant griping and moaning.

Israel purported to not being able to stand it anymore so Yahweh sent poisonous snakes to put them out of their misery. Many of them died and the people went to Moses and admitted that their attitude was a sin against Yahweh and him. They asked him to go implore Yahweh to take the snakes away.

Moses went to Yahweh and his God told him to make a snake and put it on a pole. He said that anyone who looked at it would live. Years later, Yeshua told the leader who came to him by night and asked how to be born again, “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.”[4] The snake on the pole did at least two things. It pictured Yeshua/Jesus on the cross and it gave the chosen people an opportunity to make the decision to believe Yahweh when he said that looking at that man-made serpent would give them life. They couldn’t possibly understand how looking at a cooper snake formed by Moses and put on a pole could credibly give them life. Those who made the choice to believe Yahweh and looked at the snake as commanded by Yahweh lived. In the same way, when we, today, “look at” Yeshua/Jesus on the cross believing that he died so that we could have life, we live.

The narrator recorded four camps before they reached the Arnon River that marked the border between Amorite country and Moab. Moses, at Yahweh’s command, gathered the people and their God gave them water from a well. They named the place The Well and sang the song we have adapted for our use in community worship service.

They sang something like this:

“Erupt, Well!
Sing the Song of the Well,
the well sunk by princes,
Dug out by the peoples’ leaders
digging with their scepters and staffs.”

We sing, “Spring up O Well, within my soul. Spring up O Well, and make me whole. Spring up O Well, and give to me, your life abundantly!”

We equate the well with the water of life that Yeshua promised[5] and Jeremiah talked about when he said that those who reject the fountains of living water – Yahweh – will be ashamed.

Israel traveled to the valley that opens into the fields of Moab where the summit rises and overlooked the wasteland. They sent agents to the king of the Amorites asking for permission to cross their land, promising to keep to the road and not trespass or drink from their wells.

“[The Amorites were an] ancient tribe of Canaanites, technically not of Canaanite ethnicity, the Amorites appear as nomadic clans ruled by fierce tribal chiefs, who forced themselves into lands they needed to graze their herds. Some of the Akkadian literature of this era speaks disparagingly of the Amorites, and implies that the Akkadian and Sumerian speakers of Mesopotamia viewed their nomadic and primitive way of life with disgust and contempt, for example:
“The MAR.TU who know no grain… The MAR.TU who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains… The MAR.TU who digs up truffles… who does not bend his knees (to cultivate the land), who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death[6]

“The rise of the Amorite kingdoms in Mesopotamia brought about deep and lasting repercussions in its political, social, and economic structure, especially in southern Mesopotamia[7].”

“Amorites succeeded in invading Mesopotamia and by about 1700 BC their descendants created the Babylonian Empire, centered on their capital city of Babylon (the old city of Akkad).[8]

They not only wouldn’t let Israel pass through their land, but they attacked Israel in the wilderness. Israel fought hard and defeated them decisively. They took possession of Amorite cities and surrounding settlements. The narrator wrote that Heshbon was the capital city of Sihon king of the Amorites. He had attacked the former king of Moab and captured all his land as far north as the river Arnon. The narrator recorded a folk song about Heshbon and its devastation.

While they were living in Amorite country Moses sent scouts to other Amorite country where they drove out the inhabitants and moved in. When they turned north on the road to Bashan (which contained sixty walled cities and many unwalled towns) the king of Og marched out to meet Moses in battle. The king was a giant of a man but Yahweh assured Moses that he should not be afraid of him because he, Yahweh, was giving Moses victory over him and his people. Israel defeated Og and took no prisoners. The narrator wrote that there wasn’t a single survivor.

 

Summary of chapter 21

This chapter started with the conflict with Arad (a small border chieftain). The narrator wrote about the experience of the fiery serpents (Many, many times before this the sinful and unreasonable complaints of the people of God had long ago exceeded the merciful and understanding forbearance of God[9].) The narrator gave the reader an abbreviated account of several of the encampments of Israel. He recorded the continued journey. “Of particular interest is the mention of ‘The Book of the Wars of Jehovah.’ Moses here quoted from it; but we cannot know all that was in it or in fact anything that was in it except what is quoted here. Certainly, it has the utility of showing that ‘books’ were being written in that era of time, and that there were perhaps many of them. Writing had been known for centuries, as witnessed by the Code of Hammurabi dated from about 2000 B.C.”[10]. The record of the well was not a case of Moses striking the rock and bringing forth water, but of Yahweh’s ordering a well to be dug; and the leaders of the people did the digging. That’s still the way Yahweh gives water to people all over the world. Yahweh works through the hands and hearts of his people. Finally, the narrator recorded the conflict with the Amorites, and a defeat of Bashan and the formal conquest of the land of Canaan began in earnest.[11]

 

Prayer: Lord I realize that there’s far more to this life than trusting in you for salvation. There’s also suffering for you. I know that the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. I’m involved in the same kind of struggle I read that Israel went through, and I am made of the same clay that they were. I am still living in this corrupted body and need to hold tight to your hand as I walk this mortal road. You didn’t go to all the trouble of sending your Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. You came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in you is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust you has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. We are in the same condition as Israel was in the wilderness. Then, as now, your light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not interested in pleasing you. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates your light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. Nevertheless, anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes your light so the work can be seen for what it is – your salvation power. Thank you for your great love and mercy. I pray my love will flourish so that I will not only love much but also well. Show me how, moment by moment, to love appropriately. Help me to use my head and test my feelings so that my love is sincere and intelligent; and not just sentimental gush. Help me to live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life you will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making you attractive to all. I know that you, who started this great work in me will keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day you, Yeshua ha Mashiach, return.[12]

 

 

Things to think about

  1. We know that Arad wasn’t destroyed until after Joshua took Israel in to possess the land, so why do you think Israel named the town Holy Destruction after Yahweh gave them victory over Arad as recorded in this chapter?
  2. Holy destruction meant that the people didn’t take any booty from the defeated enemy as was the custom, but instead destroyed everything completely. Why do you think Yahweh didn’t want them to take the possessions of the Canaanites into the households of his chosen people?
  3. What does the story about Israel’s battle with Arad tell you about the character of Yahweh?
  4. The actions and words of the Israelite people when they accused Moses of yanking them out of Egypt to die in that god forsaken country were shameful. Do you recall ever having that attitude yourself? Israel’s salvation was to look up to the representation of Yahweh’s power and grace in the copper snake. What can we do when we find ourselves in the same situation?
  5. What does the story of the serpents and Yahweh’s provision for healing his people tell you about the character of Yahweh? Does he have a right to destroy evil societies and people? Why?
  6. What did the story of the well tell you about the character of Yahweh? What did it tell you about the people of Israel’s mood and the ambiance around the well they dug?
  7. Why do you think Moses sent ambassadors to ask permission to cross Amorite territory instead of just attacking them? Why do you think the king of Og marched out against Israel? What did this story tell you about Yahweh? Does he still have the power to topple and establish nations? What do your meditations on the subject tell you are the conditions under which Yahweh has taken ultimate power from nations in recent years?

 

 

[1] Exodus 23:27-31; Lev 18:24-28; 20:22-23;

[2] https://www.knowingthebible.net/the-extermination-of-the-canaanites

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201107/how-deal-chronic-complainers

[4] John 3:13-15; Romans 8:3

[5] John 4:14; 7:38; Jeramiah 17:13

[6] Chiera 1934: 58 and 112 ww.ancient-origins.net/history-important-events/fierce-amorites-and-first-king-babylonian-empire-003269

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amorites

[8] http://quatr.us/westasia/history/amorites.htm#topbar

[9] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/numbers-21.html

[10] IBID

[11] IBID

[12] Philippians 1,1’ John 3

From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 20

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that chapter 20 begins the history of Israel’s fortieth – and last year of wandering in the wilderness.[1]

Biblical geographers place the Wilderness of Zin between Beersheba and Kadesh-Barnea just north of the Wilderness of Paran. The topography of this region is rugged and forbidding. A land of “bare land-scapes, bold colors and fiery bright light[2],” a land “that is hostile to humans”[3] whose entire surface is irregular, “running up here and down there into intolerable hills and all seamed with stony torrent beds.[4]”  Geologically, this rugged moonscape is generally layered with softer limestone[5] rising above harder lime-stone and between the Arabah and the Mediterranean Sea.[6] Those who cross this barren wilderness will find it to be nearly waterless[7] with only meager vegetation presenting itself after a rain shower.[8]

The above information recorded by John A. Back[9]is the geological atmosphere that the nation of Israel moved into in the first month of the year. Miriam died and was buried there. The condition of the country where Israel camped depressed the people of Yahweh. Israel overestimated the risk of a short supply of water and underestimated Yahweh’s resources for coping. Their emotional systems signaled that things were not working the way they ought to. They literally couldn’t think straight. They ruminated repeatedly about the difficulties and disappointments they encountered until that’s all they could focus on. They would have had to put their collective hand in the hand of their God, Yahweh, and walk and talk with him daily so they would know that he could and would take care of their needs.

However, Israel had made a choice not to have a personal relationship with their God when he gave them the Ten Commandments at the foot of the mountain 42 years earlier,[10] so when their emotional signals alerted them to impending doom they repeated the behavior of earlier years. They focused on the “good old days” when they lived as slaves in Egypt where the grass was naturally greener; or the glory they gave to their parents who had died in the wilderness because of their rebellion against their God, Yahweh. They got together and accused Moses of leading them into the wilderness to die in a place that didn’t have any of the wonderful things they had been told about – grain, figs, grapevines, or pomegranates—and now there was not even any water!

Moses and Aaron knew what to do. They went to Yahweh and threw themselves down before him. He told Moses to take his staff and the two of them should gather the community together and he was to speak to the rock in front of the community and it would give them and their cattle water.

John A. Beck says, “The reader is led to anticipate that the resolution to this conflict will come from a rock (fls). The unique choice of vocabulary invites more careful attention. This particular word for rock is used seven times in the Torah. Five of those seven times occur within this story and all seven seem to have an association with the region we are studying[11]. The writer could have used the more generic word for rock (fls) that is used eighty-eight times in the Torah or the word (rvc) that is used sixteen times in the Torah. The former would call no special attention to itself: The latter seems to be associated with the harder rock of Sinai or Moab (Exodus 17; 33:21-22; Num 23:9; and Deut 8:15). Given this, the choice of fls is not serendipitous but strategic. Furthermore, this unique choice of vocabulary also helps distinguish this story from the story told in Exodus 17. In Numbers 20, Moses is to speak to the fls in order to provide water for the people. In Exodus 17, Moses is to strike a rvc in order to provide water for the people.”[12]

Moses was to take the staff, gather the people, and speak to the rock. Instead he assembled the people, spoke to the people, and struck the rock with his staff. The chosen people of Israel didn’t see the full power and might of Yahweh. The word fls (limestone) used here shows us how Yahweh why it was important to speak to the rock and not strike it. Gravity forced rainwater coursing through the soft upper passages of limestone would dissolve and transport components of its soft chalk down through the upper strata. The mixture of water and chalk would settle through the upper layers of limestone until it reached a less porous layer. Sometimes the water would then flow sideways and exit the rock face. As the water flowed from the rock, it would evaporate and leave behind crystals. After the right time and conditions, a mineral cap would form and seal off the flow of water. The water would continue to collect behind the cap. Pleasure would increase waiting a blow from a shrewd water seeker who knew how to read the rock. The water seeker would give the rock a sharp blow, the plug would break, and water would flow from the rock. When Moses was told to strike the rock earlier he struck impermeable granite. Given the properties of this rock, no amount of sustained striking could ever hope to produce water. Therefore, Yahweh instructed Moses to strike the rock and produce a miracle giving glory to Yahweh. By speaking to the limestone rock instead of striking it Moses would have been bring glory to Yahweh.[13]Israel would have known that it was not something flesh and blood could do without the power of Yahweh.

Moses and Aaron may have thought[14] that Yahweh was telling Moses to do something that the people could have done themselves if they hadn’t been so argumentative and lazy because he said, “Listen, rebels! Do we have to bring water out of this rock for you?” Then he raised his arm and slammed it against the rock.[15]

Yahweh brought the brothers up short. He told them that because they hadn’t trusted him and treated him with holy reverence before his chosen people; neither of them was going into the Promised Land.

The narrator called the water in that place the waters of Meribah (bickering) because the people quarreled with Yahweh and he made his holiness known to them.

Ambassadors took a message to the king of Edom from Moses reminding them that they were close relatives since Israel’s ancestor, Jacob, and Edom’s ancestor, Esau, were brothers. Edom would have known that Israel had been recently liberated from their slavery in Egypt. Moses’ message told them that when they called out to Yahweh for help he heard them and rescued them. Moses told them that they were at Kadesh, right on the border of Edom’s land and asked for permission to cut across Edom. His message assured the king that Israel wouldn’t trespass through their fields or orchards – they wouldn’t even drink water from their wells. They would not veer from the main road until they had crossed the border of Edom and were on the other side.

The king of Edom refused to let Israel cross their land and no amount of pleading and promises would move him. He sent his men out to block the way with weapons ready to kill anyone who dared set foot on the land of Edom.

The Pulpit Commentary says Israel had deliberately refused to take the straight road into their land. Therefore, they had to follow a long and circuitous route on a different side to reach the country beyond Jordan. The dangers and difficulties of the road they actually crossed were far greater than any they would have encountered in any other direction; but this was part of their necessary discipline.[16]

Israel left Kadesh and traveled to Mount Hor. They were compelled to journey southwards for some distance until they were clear of the Azazimat[17]; where they would have turned eastwards again and made their way across the plateau of Paran to the Arabah at a point opposite Mount Hor.[18]

Yahweh told Moses to take Aaron to Mount Hor at the border of Edom. Since he wouldn’t be going into the Promised Land it was time for him to be gathered to his ancestors. He didn’t say it was time for Aaron to die because death means separation and he wouldn’t be separated from his God or his ancestors. Yahweh told Moses to take Aaron and his son Eleazar up to Mount Hor where all of Israel would be able to see them go. Moses was to remove Aaron’s clothes and put them on Eleazar Then he said Aaron would die[19] because he would be separated from the nation of Israel that would be going into the Land of Promise without him.

The congregation watched as Moses took his brother and nephew up the mountain and later descended with Eleazar wearing the garments of the High Priest.

Yahweh’s chosen people mourned the death of Aaron for thirty days.

Aaron’s death, as described in the Haggadah, was peaceful. Accompanied by Moses, and Eleazar, Aaron went to the summit of Mount Hor, where the rock suddenly opened before him and a beautiful cave lit by a lamp presented itself to his view. Moses and Aaron entered the cave after he took off his clothes and put them on Eleazar. There was a bed prepared surrounded by angels. At Moses’ bidding Aaron lay on the bed and his soul departed as if by a kiss from God. The cave closed behind Moses as he left; and he went down the hill with Eleazar, with garments rent, and crying. When the Israelites cried in bewilderment, “Where is Aaron?” they saw angels carrying Aaron’s bier through the air.[20]

 

Summary of chapter 20

This chapter gives an account of, the death of Miriam, the fetching of water out of the rock, the negotiation with the Edomites, the death of Aaron, instalment of Eleazar. The distress Israel was in, for want of water and their discontent and murmuring. Yahweh’s pity and power engaged for supplied them with water out of the rock. Moses and Aaron demonstrated their weakness. Israel’s request and the repulse the Edomites gave them. Finally, this chapter recorded Aaron’s death on Mount Hor, and the mourning for him.[21]

Miriam was a prophetess in her own right[22] – the first woman described that way in scripture. Miriam waited among the bulrushes while Moses’ ark was in the river, watching over him to make sure he was all right[23]. When the Pharaoh’s daughter drew Moses out of the water, Miriam arranged for their mother, Yocheved, to nurse Moses and raise him until he was weaned.[24] Miriam led the women of Israel in a song and dance of celebration after the Pharaoh’s men were drowned in the sea.[25]

Aaron was born in 2365, three years before Moses, before the Pharaoh’s edict requiring the death of male Hebrew children. He was the ancestor of all koheins, the founder of the priesthood, and the first Kohein Gadol (High Priest). Aaron and his descendants tended the altar and offered sacrifices. Aaron’s role, unlike Moses’, was inherited; his sons continued the priesthood after him. Aaron’s most notable personal quality is that he was a peacemaker. His love of peace is proverbial; Rabbi Hillel said, “Be disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them near the Torah.”[26]

 

Prayer: Lord, the ancient Israelites “came to a fork in the road”. They probably didn’t appreciate that they had a choice to make when they realized that there wasn’t going to be water for their families and animals. They could have tried to find enough water themselves. They could have tried their hand at striking the limestone and hoping it resulted in a gush of water. On the other hand, they could have complained, grumbled, and blamed Moses and Aaron for their troubles. Either way their trouble was that they didn’t have their collective hand in yours as they walked with you; therefore, they couldn’t follow you down the right way to get water. When you told Moses to speak to that rock it was the one rock that would gush with enough water to keep that large nation and its animals alive. Moses could have been familiar with the rocks and where to strike to get water, but without your intervention there still wouldn’t have been enough water. Lord, help me to keep my hand in yours and walk with you, where you lead – even when it doesn’t make sense to follow that fork instead of another one that looks better. Help me to remember that you are the light at the end of the tunnel and follow close to your side.

 

 

Things to think about

  1. Why do you think Yahweh told Moses to get his staff and take it with him when he spoke to the rock?
  2. Do you think Israel could have found enough water for their use if they had run around striking all the rocks around them?
  3. Do you think Moses had a reason to be angry with the chosen people?
  4. What do you think about the story Jewish tradition tells about the death of Aaron? What do you think is the important thing about the account in this book about his death?
  5. Do you think the fact that Eleazar came down the mountain clothed in the garments of the High Priest avoided another uprising about the priesthood?
  6. Why did Israel detour around Edom?
  7. What is the difference between the rock that Moses struck at Rephidim and the one he struck in the Wilderness of Zin?

[1] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/numbers/20.html

[2] Glueck, Rivers in the Desert, 15

[3] Beitzel, The Moody Bible Atlas, 37

[4] C. Leonard Woolley and T E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (London: Jonathan Cape,

1936), 70

[5] Efraim Orni and Elisha Efras, Geography of Israel (3d ed.; Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication

[6] Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography (Philadelphia:

Westminster; 1967), 31; Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev (New

York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1959), 34; Levine, .Numbers.. 487; and Milgrom, Numbers,

[7] George Turner, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), 292

[8] George Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 280.

[9] https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/04-numbers/text/articles/beck-num20-wtj.htm  John A. Beck is Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Concordia University Wisconsin.

[10] Exodus 20

[11] Num 24:21 associates the Kenites with this word for rock. The Kenites are said to live in the Negev (Judg 1:16 and 1 Sam 27:10). The use in Dent 32:13 may well be an allusion to the events of Numbers 20.

[12] https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/04-numbers/text/articles/beck-num20-wtj.htm

[13] IBID

[14] It is easy for the human listener to read their own thoughts into what they are being told.

[15] Psalm 106:32, 33

[16] The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

http://biblehub.com/commentaries/pulpit/numbers/20.htm

[17]  A desolate geological fissure extending from the south end of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba.

[18] The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission http://biblehub.com/commentaries/pulpit/numbers/20.htm

[19] Deuteronomy 10:6

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron

[21] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/numbers/20.html

[22] Exodus 15:20

[23] Exodus 2:4

[24] Exodus 2:7-9

[25] Exodus 15:20, 21

[26] http://www.jewfaq.org/moshe.htm

from Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 18

Aaryn’s rod had budded, blossomed, and bore fruit to establish his authority. The flip side of authority is responsibility so Yahweh gave Aaron and his sons the responsibility of taking care of the sins having to do with the Sanctuary and priesthood. He told Aaron and his sons that they were accountable to him.

Aaron and his sons were instructed to enlist the men of the tribe of Levi to help them and report to the priests as they did their duties about the tent. They were not to have anything to do with the holy things of the Altar and Yahweh warned them that if the priests sanctioned or solicited assistance with the holy things they would both die. No outsider was allowed to help the priests with any of their work. Yahweh told Aaron that – without question – it was his job to take care of the Sanctuary and Altar. He reminded Aaron that he had personally picked the Levites from the rest of the tribes to help the priests. They were Yahweh’s gift to Aaron and his sons to help with the work of the Tent of Meeting. Then Yahweh repeated that only Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests and work around the Altar and inside the curtain. Yahweh told Aaron that the work of the priesthood was his exclusive gift to Aaron. Yahweh repeated all these instructions to Aaron so no one would try to appropriate his position for their self again and die in the attempt. Yahweh is not a man-made god and the priesthood wasn’t a man-made institution up for grabs by anyone with enough clout. Sovereigns appointed priests in the ancient Near East and Yahweh was establishing the fact that he alone was sovereign over Israel. He had taken his chosen people out of Egypt and had to take Egypt out of his people.

Yahweh reminded Aaron that he was not only in charge of all the holy gifts from the people of Israel but he was also to use them as his own. Whatever wasn’t totally burned up on the altar was to be for him and his children forever – the leftovers from Grain-Offerings, Absolution-Offerings, and Compensation-Offerings. It was the choice portion of the meat and the priest was to eat it reverently because it was most holy; every male could eat it but the priests were to remember that it was holy. They were to remember that they were sharing a meal with Yahweh. Yahweh reminded Aaron that all the wave offerings were his gift to Aaron and his family – male and female alike – anyone who was ritually clean. Yahweh also gave Aaron and his family all the best olive oil, the best new wine, and the grain that was offered to him – Yahweh – as the firstfruits of their harvest. Anyone in Aaron’s household who was ritually clean could eat it.

Aaron and his sons were also to get every totally devoted gift and the redemption price of the firstborn. Yahweh reminded Aaron that humans and ritually clean animals were to be redeemed when they were a month old. The priests were not to redeem the firstborn ox, sheep, or goat. Their blood was to be splashed on the Altar and their fat burned as a fire gift to Yahweh. The priests were to get the meat in the same way they got the breast and right thigh from the wave offering. These offerings that Yahweh gave to Aaron and his family were a Covenant of Salt and unchangeable before Yahweh. A “covenant of salt” was understood in ancient nations to be ceaseless and indissoluble. The covenant was confirmed by a meal shared by the two parties. Salt was a very valuable and important part of the meal.

Yahweh told Aaron that he and his descendants or any of the tribe of Levi wouldn’t get even a small plot of land for an inheritance. Yahweh was the inheritance[1] of the priests among the chosen people. The tithes and offerings of the people of Israel were to belong to the Levites as payment for the work they did in the Tent of Meeting.

Yahweh made the Levites responsible for keeping others from wandering in and out of the Tent of Meeting. Yahweh was teaching his people to value the Tent of Meeting which represented his Presence.

Yahweh told Moses to instruct the Levites that when they got the tithe from the other tribes, they were to give back 10% as an offering to the priests. Their offerings were to be treated the same as other people’s gifts of grain from the threshing floor or wine from the wine vat. They were to give Yahweh’s portion to Aaron and make sure it was the best and holiest. They and their households were free to eat the rest of it anytime and anyplace because it was their wages for their work at the Tent of Meeting. By offering the best part, they would avoid guilt and not be desecrating the holy offerings of the People of Israel.

Summary of chapter 18

The Levite’s compensation for their labor for the priests was the tithes of the other tribes of Israel. The priest’s allocation was the tithes of the Levites. The authority of the priesthood to be the only mediator between Yahweh and humans was matched with the responsibility of keeping the Sanctuary holy. The Levites were honored by their calling as assistants to the priesthood and that honor was balanced with the responsibility of keeping those without that authority from trying to take over their position.

Prayer: Lord, I will live in the light of your word. It is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Your precepts show me how to walk in the paths of righteousness. I want my life to shine with your joy and love. I, along with my kingdom family, am called to be light to attract others to your kingdom and to live in your freedom. We are called to act with justice, to love tenderly, and to serve one another as we walk humbly with you. Help me to show mercy to all those in fear. We are called to be hope for the hopeless so that all hatred and blindness will cease. I look forward to that great day when your family is walking together with you, united in love. Until then help me to remember to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you.

 

Things to think about

  1. What did this chapter tell you about the personality of Yahweh?
  2. Yeshua said, “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.[2]” How does that relate to Yahweh’s instructions for Aaron and his sons and the rest of the tribe of Levi?
  3. Did your meditations on this chapter reveal how Yahweh’s instructions to the priests and Levites should prevent another rebellion like the one recorded in the previous chapter?
  4. What do you think about the tithe and the way Yahweh used it to support both the needs of the Levites and the priests? What does it reveal about the character of Yahweh?
  5. I have seen T.V. shows where the heroin wiggled her nose or blinked her eyes and food or shelter magically appeared. Yahweh is all powerful so he could supply our needs “magically” but he uses people to supply each other’s needs. Why do you think he does it that way? What does that tell you about his nature?
  6. What is the difference between legalism[3] and following the procedures Yahweh gave us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him?
  7. Is the need for order above all other human concerns as Chinese legalism[4] believes? Where did the need for order come into the instructions Yahweh gave the priests and Levites?

[1] Psalm 73:26; 142:; I Peter 2:9

[2] Matthew 20:25-28

[3] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/legalism

[4]https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/chinese_legalism.html

 

 

Chapter 19

[1] Psalm 73:26; 142:; I Peter 2:9

[2] Matthew 20:25-28

A synopsis of Evelyn’s anxious Bench by Allison Kohn Author

akleslieprice

Image

It is the early part of the nineteenth century and although New Englanders have been spreading their wings and moving ever further west for years Evelyn Brook, the daughter of wealthy Jonathan Baker, has lived in Maryland all her life and would never think of leaving. She doesn’t know how to cook, she doesn’t make her own clothes, and she doesn’t take care of her own children. That’s what servants are for.

Evelyn does have a good education for a girl brought up in those days, and she is compelled by her father to teach school just long enough to get a taste of the power of independent thought. But after her marriage she settles down in a mold set by generations of the upper class in New England and is quite satisfied with her life, for the most part.

Then the unthinkable happens and she finds herself without servants…

View original post 973 more words

From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 17

Soon after Israel refused to go into the Promised Land with Yahweh they thought about what they were missing and told Moses they were ready to go take possession. Moses said no so they rebelled and went in without him and Yahweh’s blessing. They lost the battle and ran back into the Wilderness where their rebellious attitude got them into more trouble. Stepping out of the “me, me, me” take on their lives would have instantly freed them. Nevertheless, they choose to feel resentful because they thought they knew what was fair, but Moses and Aaron wouldn’t agree with them. They conveniently defined fairness as what they wanted and got locked into their own point of view. They assumed that things would change if people were only fair or really valued them. They held Moses and Aaron responsible for their pain and made them responsible, in their minds, for everything that had gone wrong – things that were actually the result of their own choices and decisions. They expected their leaders to change to suit them if they exerted enough pressure. Blaming Moses and Aaron for their troubles was easier than repenting and changing their wrong thinking. They allowed their minds to convince them of something that wasn’t true and they ran with the lie.

Even after Yahweh made it clear to his people that he had chosen Moses and Aaron for their positions and they weren’t up for grabs, Israel continued to grumble and complain against them.

A rod – מטה matteh, the staff or scepter, which the leader of each tribe bore, was the sign of office or royalty among almost all the people of the earth. Moses, as a shepherd, had his in his hand when he was tending sheep in the wilderness[1] and later his rod became a symbol of the authority that Yahweh gave to Moses[2]. The rod demonstrated Moses’ authority in action when it became a serpent, and turned back into a rod again; and worked the miracles of the plagues in Egypt[3]. Yahweh used that rod again and again to demonstrate his authority over humans.

When Israel’s rebellion reached a crescendo Yahweh told Moses to tell the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel to take their staffs to him. He was to write the names of the leaders on their staffs and start by writing Aaron’s name on the staff of the tribe of Levi. When the staffs were all labeled Yahweh told Moses to lay them out in the Tent of Meeting where Moses and Yahweh had their assignations. He told Moses he would put an end to the constant grumbling by the people against him by causing the rod of the man he choose to sprout.

When Moses walked into the Tent of Testimony the next day he saw that Aaron’s rod had buds, blossoms, and even ripe olives on it. He took all the staffs out and presented them to the people of Israel. The people inspected them all carefully and the leaders reclaimed their own staff. Yahweh told Moses to take Aaron’s staff back to the Testimony and keep it there as a sign to the rebels. It was to stop the grumbling against Yahweh and save the lives of his people.

The Israelites knew they were wrong and panicked again. They expected disaster to strike if they even looked at the Tent of Meeting. They still had their minds focused on themselves. Finding the worth that they had assigned to themselves was false; they swung to the other side of the bell curve and decided that they had no worth at all. They forgot all the lessons they had been taught about[4] Yahweh’s willingness to forgive the repentant heart.

Yahweh revealed his mercy toward Israel by not giving them what they deserved. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and offered them the Promised Land and they refused it. Then they tried to take it against his orders. They rebelled again over the priesthood. Part of Yahweh’s mercy is to sometimes allow his children to enter into the hard places of life but he is always with us.

John put it this way: “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”[5]

Yahweh has told us what is good and what he requires of his people: to do justly, to walk in humility with him and to lovingly display mercy. When Israel sinned by rejecting the Promised Land and trying to take it later without him, Yahweh reminded them that they could repent and be forgiven.[6] They ignored him and gave in to fear. Fear produced rebellion and more fear.

 

Summary of chapter 17

Yahweh used each of the twelve tribe’s symbols of authority to prove to the nation that he had chosen Aaron and his descendants for the priesthood and it wasn’t to be bargained for or taken by intimidation. Aaron’s staff not only budded and blossomed but also bore fruit as a message that the power that Yahweh assigned to Aaron was alive and well. “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”[7]

 

Prayer: Lord, I don’t know why you choose Aaron and his descendants to be your priests any more than the early Israelites did; but I know that it is your right as the Supreme Being of the universe – the all wise and all-knowing God – to make decisions and choices without my knowledge or understanding. There was a time when I wanted to know everything but wisdom comes with age and experience and makes me glad to be what and who you want me to be. You have asked me to do things that weren’t in “my comfort zone” and I did them and discovered that the truth that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is more than powerless words. I can do anything that you want me to do, but I am free to let you make the choice. I don’t have to try to think up ways to make myself important for you. I am important to you because you decided, according to the counsel of your own will, to make me important to you.[8]

 

 

Things to think about

  1. Why did Yahweh tell Moses to get the staffs from the leaders of each tribe?
  2. How had Yahweh used Aaron and Moses staff in the past?
  3. Why was it important for Yahweh to establish the authority of Aaron and his descendants?
  4. How could a piece of dead wood sprout and produce fruit?
  5. Why do you think Aaron’s rod produced fruit?
  6. What does the story about the rods tell you about Yahweh?
  7. What does Yahweh require of humans? What did he do to show us how we can be separated unto him?

 

 

[1] Exodus 4:2

[2] Exodus 4:20

[3] Exodus 7:9-10

[4] Leviticus 4

[5] Joh 3:19-21

[6] Numbers 15

[7] Hebrews 4:12-14

[8] John 3:16; Ephesians 1:3-5

From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 16

One of the Levites, Korah, and some friends from the tribe of Reuben convinced themselves that they were people of inordinate consequence. Two hundred fifty leaders of the congregation who had major positions in the administration followed Korah and his cohorts to confront Moses and Aaron with their significance. They had the audacity to accuse Moses and Aaron of exceeding their function in the community. They presented their argument in a way that would sound to the congregation as though they were defending the people of Israel from Moses and Aaron’s dictatorship. It has been said that Korah, because he wasn’t a true leader, completely misread the condition of the nation of Israel when he said that it was holy. When he accused Moses and Aaron of pride and self-seeking he was attributing his own faults to them. The Holy Spirt of Yahweh, through the narrator, made a record of the fact that Moses was “a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth”[1] and Aaron was ordained by Yahweh to do the work of high priest. Moses’ reactions to their accusations were to through himself on the ground before Yahweh and then tell his accusers that they would wait on Yahweh to resolve the issue.

Moses told Korah and his followers to take censers to the Tent of Meeting – in the presence of their God, Yahweh – and put fire and incense in them. Remember, incense represents prayer. Remember also that the priests were the only ones allowed in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle.[2]

Moses rebuked the pride and self-seeking that prompted the challenge because he knew that their rebellion was because of ingratitude. The Levites were not thankful for the wonderful ministry Yahweh gave them to do. Rashi’s Commentary says that Dathan and Abiram, who rebelled with Korah, were close neighbors as both tribes – Reuben and Kohath – were camped in the south. Korah decided to quarrel with Moses because he envied an appointment Moses had made over the sons of Kohath – appointing the youngest son over the oldest[3]. Moses told Korah and his followers that that they were defying Yahweh. They could have remembered what happened when Nadab and Abihu brought unauthorized fire[4] into the tabernacle, and repented of their own insolence before the morning light but they didn’t.

Dathan and Abiram refused to appear before Yahweh at the Tent of Meeting and choose to accuse him of being responsible for their own evil instead. They had agitated against Yahweh and refused to go on and take the Land of Promise when he gave them the opportunity. They accused Moses of not only taking them from Egypt where they had been happy slaves in a comfortable land of plenty; but also of not giving them what he had promised. They refused to take responsibility for their own actions. As Paul told the Romans, “Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.”[5] Moses was upset and asked Yahweh not to accept their offering. Rebellion is contagious so Moses could have had them all arrested and punished but it is always better to leave the matter of punishment to the highest authority and Moses turned it over to Yahweh.

The following morning they all brought their censers filled with fire to the Tent of Meeting and Moses and Aaron did the same. The glory of Yahweh appeared before the whole community and he told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves, not only from the pretenders to the priesthood, but the whole nation. Yahweh told Moses and Aaron that he would finish with the rebellion of his people once and for all by destroying them all. Rashi says that Korah had spent the night going around the camp enticing the people – telling them how much he cared for them and was just trying to protect them from the dictatorship of Moses and Aaron.

Yahweh sent lightening to cremate the two hundred fifty men who took incense offering into the temple. He told Moses to tell Aaron’s son, Eleazar, to gather the censers and scatter the coals from them a distance away because the censers had become holy. The bronze censers of the men who had sinned were to be hammered in sheets for covering the altar to serve as a sign to Israel, evidence of what happened that day.

Eleazar did as he was told and the bronze from the censers covered the altar as a constant reminder to Israel that only the descendants of Aaron were allowed to burn incense before Yahweh and what would happen if anyone else tried it.

Moses and Aaron again threw themselves on their faces before their God, Yahweh, and pled for the sheep that followed the wolves[6]. Yahweh told them to tell the community to separate themselves from the rebels so Moses and Aaron told the chosen people to back off from the insurgents and not even touch anything that belonged to them so as not to be carried off in the flood of their sins. Yeshua told us that we would recognize these wolves by their product [7] and that creatures that produce lies would be cut down and destroyed.

The people listened to Moses’ warning and moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who were standing with their families at the entrance to their tents. They were standing out in arrogance against their God, Yahweh’s, appointed authority and their families were standing in solidarity with the men’s insubordination.

Moses faced the community and told them that if these men died a natural death the same as everyone does, they would know that he wasn’t sent to them by Yahweh. On the other hand, if Yahweh did something unprecedented and the ground opened up and swallowed them they would know he was ordained by their God. The people would also know that the men who had been trying to insight insurrection in Israel had rejected their God, Yahweh, and were wrong.

The narrator wrote that the words were hardly out of his mouth before the earth split open and swallowed the three men and their families along with everything they owned. The earth closed up over them and it was as if they had never existed.

The Israelites panicked and ran shouting in fear that they would be swallowed up alive too.

Nevertheless, the following morning people begin grumbling against Moses and Aaron again, unjustly accusing them of being responsible for “acts of God”.

Matthew Henry said, “Though they were so lately saved from sharing in the same punishment, and the survivors were as brands plucked out of the burning, yet they fly in the face of Moses and Aaron, to whose intercession they owed their preservation.”[8]

As Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph. D says, Blame is an excellent defense mechanism. Blaming Moses and Aaron helped the Israelites preserve their sense of self-esteem by avoiding awareness of their own sins. It was easier to blame Moses and Aaron than to accept their own responsibility. Blaming their leaders involved less effort than recognizing their contributions to the situation and accepting the fact that they were actually at fault – and changing so they didn’t repeat their sin.[9]

However, when the community of Israel got together against their leaders, Moses and Aaron, They saw the glory of Yahweh in the cloud over the Tent of Meeting. He told Moses and Aaron to back away from the congregation so he could eradicate them immediately. Justice demonstrated that they deserve to be destroyed in a moment, but Moses and Aaron did what they always did. They fell on their faces before Yahweh in supplication for Israel.

Instructed by Moses, Aaron took the symbol of their prayers – his censor filled with incense and fire from the Altar – and made atonement for the people’s sins. Aaron stood between the dead and the living, giving us a picture of how serious the matter of prayer is; it is no casual pursuit, no fatalistic exercise in self-improvement. Prayer moves Yahweh to stop death and to give life.

The mutiny was a repudiation of Yahweh and his leadership of Israel. Fourteen thousand seven hundred of the mutineers died that day. Two hundred fifty others along with the three instigators and their families died the day before. All of these people were part of the chosen people who rejected the Promised Land and later changed their minds and tried to take it without Yahweh and lost not only the war, but also many of their numbers in the attempt. They were rejecting the God, Yahweh, who rescued them from slavery in Egypt and offered them possession of the Promised Land, a land gushing with all things nourishing and sweet.

 

Summary of chapter 16

Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On turned against Moses. Korah was a Levite. Dathan and Abiram were brothers and descendants of Rueben. On was also a descendant of Rueben. These four men gathered 250 leaders from Israel together and came against Moses. They unjustly accused their leaders of taking themselves too seriously. They wanted to take over for their selves the dignified position of priests.

Moses bowed his face to the ground to show he was not being proud and told Korah and all his followers that on the morrow Yahweh would show everyone who were separated unto him. He told them to put fire and incense in censers and take them before Yahweh if they thought they were qualified to go into the presence of the Most Holy God, Yahweh. He told Korah that the Levites had gone too far and were wrong. He told them that they should be happy that the God of Israel had chosen them to assist the priests and asked them why they would try to take over the position of the priests. They knew that only the priests were allowed to burn the holy incense in the Tent of Meeting.

When Moses called Dathan and Abiram they refused to come to him. They unjustly accused him of taking them out of a land filled with many good things and bringing them to the desert to kill them. They said Moses did not give them the land Yahweh promised with the fields or the vineyards. To add to their lies, they accused him of trying to make Israel his slaves.

Moses told Korah that he and his followers were to stand before Yahweh on the morrow and Aaron would be there with them. Each of them must bring a pan, put incense in it, and present it to Yahweh. There would be 250 pans for the leaders and 1 pan for Korah and 1 pan for Aaron.

When the morning came, and they met at the Tent of Meeting, Yahweh told Moses and Aaron to step aside so he could destroy the pretenders then and there. However, Moses and Aaron bowed to the ground and cried out for their salvation.

Yahweh told Moses and Aaron to tell the people to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

Moses went to Dathan and Abiram and all the elders of Israel followed him. Moses warned the people to move away from the tents of the evil men and not even touch anything that belonged to them.

The men moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who went to their tents and stood with their families.

Moses told Israel that as proof that Yahweh sent him to lead his people; the men would die as the earth opened up and swallowed them alive. When Moses finished speaking, the ground under the men opened its mouth and swallowed them. Then the earth closed over them. The Israelites heard the cries of the men being destroyed and they all ran in different directions afraid that the earth would swallow them too.

Besides that a fire came from Yahweh and destroyed the 250 men who were offering the illegal incense. Yahweh told Moses to instruct the priest, Eleazar, to get all the incense pans from the fire and scatter the coals and ashes outside the camp. The pans became holy when people gave them to Yahweh. At Yahweh’s command they were hammered into flat sheets and used to cover the altar. This was to be a warning sign to all the Israelites to help them remember that only someone from the family of Aaron should burn incense before Yahweh. Any other person who burned incense before him would die like Korah and his followers.

Moses and Aaron were standing at the entrance to the Tabernacle the following day. The Israelites were gathered to complain against Moses and Aaron. They unjustly and falsely accused them of killing the people of Israel. When they looked toward the Tent of Meeting they saw the cloud that represented the glory of Yahweh hovering over the Sanctuary.

Yahweh told Moses to move away from the false accusers so that he could destroy them immediately. Moses and Aaron bowed with their faces to the ground. Moses told Aaron to get his censor with fire from the Altar and incense in it and hurry to the people. Sickness had already started to kill the people so Aaron stood between the living and the dead. He did what Moses said to remove their sin, and the sickness stopped there. When the terrible sickness was stopped, Aaron went back to Moses at the entrance of the Meeting Tent.

 

Prayer: Lord, when I remember the evil that spread through the camp of your chosen people and think of the evil that is everywhere in the world I live in today, I tremble. I know that corruption persists even among those that claim to be your people because they don’t see your glory. Israel failed to see you high and lifted up and shinning in the light of your glory then, and today I must be careful that I don’t make the same mistake. Therefore, Yahweh, my God, please open the eyes of my heart, so that I can see you high and lifted up; shining in the light of your glory. Pour out your power and love as I sing holy, holy, holy. I want to see you as you are – the great I AM, reality behind all reality – my Savior and God.

 

 

Things to think about

  1. Why do you think Korah rebelled against Moses and Aaron? Did it have anything to do with covetousness?
  2. What was the first commandment that Korah and his friends broke?
  3. What does bearing false witness against one’s neighbor have to do with Korah’s actions?
  4. Was the sin of Korah and his friends greatest against Moses and Aaron or against Yahweh?
  5. Do you and I have trouble accepting the authority of our leaders? Is it easy to think since we can do as well as another that we should be able to take their place if we want to?
  6. Do you understand the “blame game”? Have you ever looked for someone to blame for the things that go wrong in your own life?
  7. What does the story of Korah and his followers tell you about the character of Yahweh? What does it tell you about human nature?

 

 

[1] Chapter 12: 3

[2] The first chamber was called the Holy Place, it contained the Table, Lampstand, and Altar of Incense. Only priests were allowed into this section. http://www.bible-history.com/tabernacle/TAB4The_Outer_Court.htm

[3] http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9944/jewish/Chapter-16.htm#showrashi=true

[4] Leviticus 10:1, 2

[5] Romans 13:3

[6] Matthew 7:15; romans 16:17, 18

[7] Matthew 7:16-20

[8] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/numbers/16.html

[9] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game