Numbers 7

All the tribes’ offerings at the dedication of the temple. A long list chapter. The tribes’ offerings are much the same… It’s not the most freewheeling religion. 

At the end there are 12 Silver Bowls full of flour, 12 gold Bowls of incense, 12 goats, 12 lambs etc etc.

Moses enters the holy place and hears God’s voice. God is in the space between the two cherubim atop the ark of the covenant.

It’s a different dynamic than the many times Moses has heard​ God’s voice since the burning bush. Then he was a messenger, he was being personally commissioned to act and soak for God. Now he is representing the people. From God’s chosen man to God’s chosen people, the transition is complete.

Numbers 6

The origin of the Nazarite vow. This is a way of setting apart a person as a holy man. Samson was a Nazarite. By then he was a demonstration of how corrupt the promise had become.

The themes are similar to the clean and holy notions of Leviticus: no contact with the dead, not cutting hair, etc. This was like a voluntary extra giving of a life to God bring the notion that the first born was God’s. 

I imagine if a birth was difficult or a child nearly died of an illness, a parent might pray “deliver him God and I’ll devote him to you”. 

It could only be a male.

Numbers 5

Purity in the camp. Infectious people to be segregated. A test for women suspected of infidelity.

I imagine the test is one of those cultural relative issues. Seems primitive to us but probably a lot gentler than treatment of women in the rest of the ancient world. 

Meta message: God judges, husband’s don’t own wives like chattels. Jealousy must be proven. 

But gee whiz… No remedy for male cheating?

Numbers 4

3 clans in the levites, the priest tribe, are counted and their distinct roles described. 

It’s quite interesting the detail of how the tabernacle was moved and the precautions to ensure lesser people moved the holy bits without touching or looking at them.

Emphasises again the holiness of everything.

Numbers 3

About the levites. The different clans get different holy duties. The priest tribe is a substitute for the firstborn, which are to be given to God. 

They haven’t been counted so far, in the army counts, as they do not fight. 

They count the males in the levites tribe, 22000, and the number of first born Israelite males in the rest of the tribes: 22273. So they pay the substitute price set out in Leviticus for 273 first born males.  

This keeps a debt owed to God for sparing the first born males at Passover when the Egyptian children died. By each family supporting the levites for God’s service and paying for the extra 273, notionally every firstborn has been dedicated to God.

Numbers 2

Gives us a picture of how the nation camped. In a big wheel around the tabernacle. The levites were in the middle, around the holy tent, the 11 tribes were in blobs around that, always in the same order.  God’s presence at the centre, like heaven.

Family is all. Within the tribes, you camp in your clan and in your family.

And when they moved on, they left in the same order each time, and set up camp the same as before.

Numbers 1

Ok the first number of numbers is 603550. The number of fighting fit Israelites they had after a year or so if leaving Egypt.

And that’s about it for this chapter.

The focus of the census telegraphs that the promised land is going to require a fight.

Commentator speculated that the whole number of the Israelites including aged, women, children and priests… None of whom are in the fighter list, would be 2 million or so.

They have their freedom from slavery (Exodus) they have their God’s presence (Leviticus). As do I.

Now what, Father?

Can’t have me wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, right? Right?

Leviticus overview: impossible rules

 

I started with one anti-Leviticus bias and ended with another. When I was younger I found it the most boring book of the bible.  But this time I was confronted and disturbed by the things offensive to my 20th century sensibilities, and the overall impossibility of the Israelite religious and cultural system. I got quite despairing and questioning of God reading it.

Its God’s rule book for the Israelite religion and society.  When Moses got the 10 commandments, this was the other stuff, the fine print.

Jesus called it “the law”, the thing he came to fulfil and replace. It was the old wineskin which would be burst if his new wine, his message, was poured into it. We’re free from it. You gotta almost pity god’s “chosen” people, given this impossible system to fail against.

That said, there is much beauty in these rules, themes of grace and compassion, justice and fairness run deep and strong. It created social conditions that were far more progressive and fair than the surrounding countries.  Commentators said that Israel became a magnet for immigration among the oppressed, marginalised and poor – which is the background of the story of Ruth, part of the line of David and Jesus.

I took from it that sin matters.  God is very very holy. These impossible rules for a perfect life, adapted to that specific ancient time and place, still show us how impossible we look from God’s perspective: stained, dirty, ruined, failed and dead from the moment we are born.  It is indeed profoundly shocking.

Read Leviticus, if you can stand it, to treasure grace.  Your desperate need, its harsh cost.

Section 1: Types of sacrificial offerings

1 Low expectations: anticipating the bible’s most boring book.
2 Grain offerings. No particular comment
3 Meat offerings. Less nice than grain
4 the value of thinking of sins as bad things we do… means we consider the practical consequences of our actions
5 Sin requires death
6 In which I forgive God for Leviticus
7 Summary of six offering types: burnt, grain, sin, guilt, fellowship, and ordination. Clean is a strong metaphor for holy.

Section 2: Highs and lows – the sacrificial system put into action

8 Something happens: Aaron is made priest (profound forgiveness there)
9 It all comes together: first sacrifice with priest and tabernacle, joy!
10 It goes horribly wrong.  The harsh consequence of God’s holiness helps us understand the size of his love

Section 3: Rules for clean/holy living.  And rules. And rules

11 Dietary rules. Literally serving suggestion only, feel free to ignore.
12 Things that make you unclean = normal life. I fail to understand.
13 Practical rules about infectious skin diseases. Meh.
14 My theory that “unclean” is a metaphor for needing grace
15 Genital emissions, diseased and normal …well at least we’ve moved on from infectious skin diseases. More about grace.

Section 4: Rules for Israelite society – some for now, some forever

16 The scapegoat festival. So much about grace in a book of rules!
17 Kosher meat. I get that the whole system is actually about respecting the meat they are eating. Sacrificial system is not gruesome, its mindful. 
18 Distinctive sexual morality, in which I write and write in circles and give the last word to a transexual woman
19 In love with Leviticus, treatment of the poor and immigrants a picture of practical love that makes our society look primitive
20 Hate Leviticus – treatment of sinners, aka, everyone, brutal and cruel. Aaargh! Leviticus!

Section 5 Rules for priests

21 Rules for priests. This system is designed to fail. By this point, I’m losing it.
22 Contemplating that the levitical system is a form of heaven/garden of eden on earth, perfectionism. My birthday. Ask God to understand. 

Section 6 Festivals, the future, failure and forgiveness

23 Special days like sabbath, and festivals.  We’ve been created to love these!
24 The lamp of God’s presence and stoning blasphemers
25 Jubilee year and fallow fields… progressive approach to property
26 Long term consequences of obeying vs disobeying these rules
27 Redeeming vows… forgiveness and paying the price of failure other ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 27

Redeeming vows.  This whole chapter deals with vows made to God.

So if I got cancer and prayed to God “heal me, and I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to serving you”, and then I was healed, but I didn’t want to actually quit my job and go into full time christian ministry, I could make a prescribed payment to the temple for the value of my life and the vow would be regarded as kept in God’s eyes.

The value calculation is functionally discriminatory, though its pragmatically reflecting a societal fact: the elderly and women have lower economic value to an agrarian society than a fit young male, so are worth less. There is also the gracious provision for financial hardship that runs through all of Leviticus.

This was pretty useful because in ancient Israel, the priesthood was not open to anyone not in the Levite tribe, and people often made vows.

Ditto if you ended up needing an animal that was dedicated to sacrifice, you paid the value of it plus 20% to the temple, and you kept the animal but were right with God.

Ditto promises of land, houses, etc.

They make it quite clear you can’t redeem what is God’s anyway: he owns the harvest tithes and the firstborn livestock. This is totally about voluntary additional tithes

These vows were very common in their culture – we are far more circumspect in my culture, though the passion and emotion these vows demonstrate in their relationship with God is confronting to my own relative coolness. And, we do often do we hear “over my dead body”! and similar things.  I don’t know how many hats I am now due to eat.  Its so accepted that our vows are meaningless they have just become just colourful figures of speech.

Its using economic sanctions to teach the people to be careful with their speech. Don’t promise bigger than you can deliver. Words matter.

Its also a nice element of practical non-perfectionism to end the book on.  Its been all about God’s absolute inflexible standards.  Here, there is a recognition of the ups and downs of passion and regret that humans experience.  The old testament even often talks about God’s vows this way, like people can have him reconsider after he has burned with anger. Noah and Jonah bargain with God over his vows.  Prayer is like this.

Its setting the stage for the big redemption of course. There is a way out.  A debt owed to God can’t just be forgotten, but it can be paid for by another.

Leviticus 26

This chapter talks about the consequences of the Israelites’ behaviour.  The blessings that will come if they are obedient, and the progressively worse disasters that will befall them if they are not. Its pretty much the story of the next 10 or so books of the bible.

I like that the blessings are instant, and repentance is always within reach, but the curses come as a series of ever more serious consequences… slow to anger and quick to bless.

I still practically subscribe to this punishment and reward model in quite a literal way.  Its probably superstitious, theological balderdash.

If I feel guilty about something I have done and have a setback, I think its God punishing me.  I don’t think so much good things are a reward though.  I get that more the other way around: I try do the right thing because I have been blessed. And when they happen unfairly, I say “why god why”.  So every outcome is covered by my spiritualising.  Is such a simple cause and effect real?  Is god real?  If the second question’s answer is “yes”, why not the first, eh?

Anyway from this prediction the sadness and glory of the Old Testament flows.  They will have high highs of gods revelation and blessing, and low lows of his suffering for their ignorance of him.

They will take the promised land, make it great, watch it get corrupted, be thrown out of it and return. They are the chosen race – chosen to exemplify god’s character, and to provide the ancestry for god in human form.  As an earthly imprint of the heavenly pattern they were always an imperfect copy, but the messiah did come through the line.