Deuteronomy 6

Moses gives and elaborates on the commandment that Jesus would say is the greatest and contains all the law, love the lord your God with all your heart. 

He elaborates on it in a way that does not read like a sermon, but rather a heartfelt plea. His fear is the same as previous chapters, that they will forget because they will be so prosperous and comfortable. 

The irony that God’s grace and provision will be the cause of them forgetting is not lost on him, as they occupy large flourishing cities they did not build.

He pleads with them to remember the slavery that God rescued them from, and going forward to only love that God. 

Picking though all the rules, some of which are ridiculously culturally specific, this one has a giant arrow pointing to a huge red flag as a keeper.

Daily, please father let my heart overflow with love for you, remember your goodness, from every cup of coffee to every sunset and keep you as the only lord of my life.

Numbers 28

A lotta lotta animal sacrifices.

This seems like a dry series of rules.

They do 2 lambs a day, morning and evening.

2 extra on Sabbath.

A feast each month/new moon.

More for Passover

More for harvest.

I read my favourite commentator. He didn’t get a lot of meat from it (no pun intended)

He said the sunrise and sunset sacrifices are a good reminder to us to acknowledge God each day.

He made the point that they added a goat for atonement to the harvest, which was largely a celebration of thankfulness. There is always a place for remembering that God forgives sin.
I was also struck by how tightly communal their life was. A national leaders meeting/feast each month. That’s a lot of communication.

I also found myself wondering about whether they would give too much to God. What if they run out of sheep to feed their families? We were they getting flour from for the grain offering? It must have been a very precious commodity. I found myself wondering whether the invisible God and often victimless sin actually was worth risking their food supply. The “faithless” generation, it seems, eventually got more faith than me…

What it says about God is grace is not cheap. Sin is real. Approximating/symbolising it’s cost for an ancient nation of herdsmen requires a lotta lotta animals.

Numbers 25

After the mountain top. 

We’ve had two chapters of praise for the blessedness, prosperity and might of the Israelites and the one true God by their enemies’ seer, full of God’s spirit. Now we return to the Israelites camp and the contrast could not be greater.

This is such a biblical theme. We had it after Sinai, and after Jesus’ transfiguration. 

They are weak messy and compromised by worshipping foreign Gods and breaking their strict moral code with the Moabite women.

This is a strange chapter where some of the story seems untold. A leader of the tribe of simeon brazenly brings a midianite woman to a gathering of the people. He and the woman are named, she’s the daughter of a Moabite leader, so it’s probably a political and religious alliance as well. 

They are both killed by spear in their tent by a priest, who earns eternal honour by the deed. At the same time there is reference to a plague, which takes 24000 people and is stopped by the killing. Not sure if it’s a disease born by the Moab people or judgement from God or both. 

In any event, it’s a tragic and dramatic contrast to how God sees them though the spirit in the previous chapter.

The Bible is a book full of mercy, but it is merciless in showing us how corrupt the human race can be. So much grace, so much need of it.

Leviticus 16

The ritual of the day of atonement where the scapegoat carries away the sins of the people. Its not quite clear if Azazel, which is named owner of the goat is a fallen angel or a name for oblivion.  Either way, the sins are gone and Marvel got a great supervillan name.

I don’t know why having sacrificed animals all year, the Israelites would also need a day of atonement, but God knows we love festivals and annual rhythms… may be one reason. I do relate to this one emotionally better than the sacrifices on the altar, which seem a bit pagan and ghastly to my modern sensibility.

Other ancient religions had similar rituals at the time, and its an example of God adopting a tangible event to symbolise an intangible spiritual message, which is sort of the theme of this whole book not to mention the messiah.  The Greeks had a somewhat meaner version where they would pick on a beggar or disabled person after a natural disaster and drive them out of the community.

For christians Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat of course. For jewish people the day of atonement carries over as Yom Kippur which is the great nominal Jewish day that everyone who rarely otherwise goes to synagogue attends, like easter for christians. It is a day of abstinence and praying for forgiveness, followed by a festive meal to break the fast.  What, no chocolate eggs?

This gives me a chill because the concept is one of the great foundations of the bible, undeserved grace, punishment on another, running through the whole thing.

And I can’t get Holman Hunt’s odd image out of my mind

1200px-william_holman_hunt_-_the_scapegoat

 

Leviticus 15

At the end of ch14 it said that it was the end of rules about infectious skin diseases, and I thought “well that’s a relief”.  So to genital emissions, male and female, normal and abnormal. Sigh.

There is a public health element blended with spiritual metaphors.  So we have periods of quarantine and cleaning where there are diseased emissions.  But we also have shorter and more minor times of uncleanliness for normal reproductive emissions, semen and menstruation.

I’ve been contemplating the element of equal opportunity here.  Both men and women are made unclean for God by reproductive emissions, but women are unclean longer. The rest of the day for men (and women if they get the semen on them) and 5 days for women (and men if they get the blood on them).

Thing is, men have emissions more often, multiple times a week.  So perhaps as a percentage of time being spent unclean, from a practical point of view, its about equal.

Some have argued the menstruation rule is an early recognition of women’s period pain and quite progressive in full social context… I don’t know about that.

On balance, it does blunt the misogyny accusation somewhat, particularly the parallel structure of the chapter, male and female rules alongside each other, its quite striking.

It also clear that none of it is individually blameworthy, Jesus said we are born into sin.  To me this is a recognition of that, by saying that human reproduction is not the way of producing rightness with god, only gods cleansing intervention can do that.

Rather than pointing fingers at groups: at foreigners, criminals, men, women, sick, well etc. its actually saying actually dramatically and emphatically of course you need God’s cleansing grace, all of you. None is right before God.   

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 14

More rules about skin diseases, including leprosy and other infections even mould in houses.  Its quite sophisticated to connect mould in dwellings to disease, and the instructions for fixing it make a lot of practical sense.  In england as late as the 1800s, for example, they didn’t have such a clear notion of the connection, I think.

But in this chapter, about the circumstances of disease being declared gone, not diagnosis as in the last chapter, there is more of a religious element.  So we blend practical advice with rules about recognition of god in response to being clean.  Its interesting, getting sick was not seen as a metaphor for exceptional sin, and Jesus repeated that notion in his teaching, but being cured is a metaphor for also being cured of sin.

Jesus’ healing of lepers reaches back to these rules, in fact he sent his healed lepers to the temple to be declared clean, which is a ritual very similar to the ordination of the priests, quite a life changing bond of the person to god, being anointed with oil.

That particular miracle would should have had great power and significance for the priests as evidence of Jesus’ divinity, and arguably the connection was made by god in this chapter just for that moment.

Again, heartening practical exceptions for the poor.  Reading this in the week that D S Trump announced a budget gutting services for the poor, in a world where inequality and poor-blaming seem to be on the rise.

The message of “clean and unclean” is firstly that its not individually blameworthy to be unclean – Jesus would ultimately argue that the reason for the law is to show that we are all equally unclean in God’s sight, not to weed out the failures –  everyone from priest to leper is unclean. There is no favoured group. Secondly, God makes clean. So being unclean is inevitable, like breathing, and cleansing is an act of God’s grace.

 

Exodus 40

And they all lived happily ever after. Well this old testament book ends on a high, unlike so many that seemed to chart decline and fall before the Messiah.

The tabernacle is done, and it is to the pattern God required, and his cloud of presence descends on it. 

They are in a state of grace, such as we always are who believe these days. 

Genesis 50

Massive happy ending, a bit of a rarity for old testament books. Joseph buries his father up in Canaan as he requested. 

He forgives his brothers again, emphasising the nature of god’s grace. They did indeed mean him harm but it was all part of the mighty plan, so who is he to hold a grudge. The brother’s do feel truly guilty for what they did.

Joseph lives a long and happy life. 

Genesis 42

Egypt is rich in a time of famine, under Joseph (and god’s) stewardship. The brother’s come, and so starts a multi chapter lesson in grace.

Joseph is almost toying with them. There is no question of him forgiving them. He has seen god’s plan in all of it. 

But they don’t recognise him so he sets tasks of faith for them, they must trust his words, and he engineers grace. He gives them more than they asked for, and their guilty consciences keep them in a fine state of panic the more good things happen.

They desperately need to be schooled in faith, goodness and grace. We’ve seen into some of their lives. 

This is god’s transformation of the whole family into the nation of Israel, his people.

Oh that I could be this influence.  In my family, in my world. 

I love the non preachy nature of it. Joseph is where he is by acts of grace and faith. And he demonstrates rather than speaks it to his brothers. 

Genesis 38

Genesis! Like a classic TV series, they keep wrong footing you on plot. 

On the basis of the last chapter you think it’s going to be Joseph’s story, he is the child of destiny, betrayed and left to rot in Egypt.

But that moment of high suspense is left on hold to tell the side story of Judah, the brother who had the idea to sell him into slavery.

It’s like a sensationalist soap opera, lurching between lurid, corrupt characters. Like Dynasty or Dallas, but with glimpses of the divine.

Judah continues to cover himself in no glory. Not a godly man at all. He marries a Canaanite woman, and falls into the local sexually promiscuous religion.   

The background to the subsequent events is the strange polygamous family marriage rules of that world. In well off families, women’s male children were their financial security, and they could keep marrying sons until they got one.

So when Judah’s eldest son died his widow Tamar became a wife of the second son. But he practised withdrawal contraception to rob her of the possibility of conception, presumably to favour the inheritance of another wife’s child. This was ethically a cruel and grievous crime against Tamar.

Judah promised her the third son, once he got old enough to marry, but then appeared to forget the promise when the time came, leaving her a vulnerable childless widow, double betrayed.

She took the extraordinary step of posing as a temple prostitute and got pregnant to Judah. When the baby started to show he threatened to burn her for adultery until she proved he was the father.

Judah broke down and said “she is more righteous than I” as well he should, having had revealed: his callous disregard of his promise to her, how far from his religion he had strayed, and his eggregious double standards. The punishment of burning for adultery was unusually severe even for those days… It’s rather like he welcomed an excuse to dispose of her. And he knew he was no better, frequenting prostitutes. 

She has twins. The one actually fully born second stuck a hand out of her first, and a Scarlett ribbon was tied to it to indicate which had broken out first. 

What is it about scarlet threads and the line of Christ? It brings to mind, thousands of years before the event, the blood shed for mankind. A Scarlett thread also features in the story of Rahab in Jericho, a later feisty female link in the great chain that would lead to the Messiah. 

Yes, Tamar is in the messiah’s line giving a blessed grace to the domestic disaster zone that is nasty Judah’s nasty house. It was by faith, presumably, that she posed as a prostitute!

Genesis!