Deuteronomy 9

It’s hard to find a theme here. It’s the gospel according to Moses, and he does bring a perspective of the mind of God to his recap of the events of his life. 

The theme might be what the events of the exodus have shown us about God and how that will be useful in the promised land.

Moses describes a purposeful God who will carry out his plans despite us. 

The Israelites let God down irredeemably in the desert when they made the golden calf to worship, and they should gave been destroyed there. They have no greater claim to the land though their worth than the people already there. 

Those people have earned their destruction by their wickedness in their own right, is nothing to do with the holiness of the Israelites. The Israelites get their inheritance because God keeps his promises, not because they have earned it.

So don’t fear Muslims or atheists. Also don’t fear or expect that much more of Christians, who today as ever seem to do as much or more to undermine God’s kingdom. 

As Bob Dylan once sang about God, he has plans of his own to set up his throne.

Deuteronomy 3

The are lots of events in the narrative of God’s salvation that are unique. Like Jesus for instance: the aren’t lots of messiahs. Or the apostles. There are lots of disciples, followers, but only 12 apostles, just as God’s people are innumerable but the are only 12 tribes of Israel.

And the Israelites’ miraculous military conquest, which Moses tells the start of in this chapter, is in that category, a one off part of the salvation story. God was on their side, they embodied his timing and his judgment, like a natural disaster.  They won every fight that God sanctioned, and left to their own strength, lost every one he didn’t.

My point is we can’t now say in every war “whose side is God on” and we can’t imply it was the winners. These wars were unique, and God actually hates most war.

So Moses witnesses, before he dies, and demonstrates for Joshua the new leader, the power of God that will deliver the holy land to them. But it is for land on the Egypt side of the Jordan. He can’t cross.

So we see God’s relationship with Moses as a powerful leader, but also God’s judgment on Moses flaws and the rebellion of the people because he can only be granted the sight of the promised land from a mountain overlooking it. Others will claim it. 

One of the Bible’s most wistful moments, Moses looking at the promised land. 

He probably revisited as he looked out the day he pretended to be God.  As a prophet he was to speak God’s truth, but he took the opportunity of God giving them water to make it like his agency was part of the miracle, and he gave them a piece of his mind, not God’s.

Numbers 34

This is the business end of numbers where God tells Moses what will be the borders of the promised land, and tribal representatives are appointed to go with Joshua, Moses’ replacement as leader, and the high priest to claim it and set the tribal boundaries.

Its sort of pragmatic and sort of weird.  Moses converses with God.  We’d possibly call him crazy today.  They got to be a nation that didn’t have land – a slave nation within Egypt.   Directed by God, they’ve arrived at this occupied, relatively random land, which they are to claim by driving out or killing everyone living there… complete annihilation of the existing culture and existence. I feel disloyal to God saying that, or should I say untrusting of his justice.

Its a formative moment in history – no land, no nation, no nation no messiah, no messiah no christianity.  Love it or hate it, Christianity is the biggest religion, a third of the planet. Judasim not far behind. Its a big deal moment.

Speak to me, father.

Numbers 32

The land they have just conquered is great for livestock… Reuben and Gad are vast herdsmen tribes and they want it, not to go into the promised land over the jordan.

Moses does a deal where they can have it if they join the fight for Canaan, but if not they will be given land within Canaan.  Either way, their lot is with the Israelites, fighting for Canaan.

He compared it to the weakness of the generation who lost their will to go to the promised land after the spies report.  Its easy to see a lesson about settling for instant gratification and not pursuing God’s plan.

As you will see from my reading of Joshua, the promised land project for me, and for many I’m sure, keeps being tainted with sentiment for the occupants of the land… its not empty. So I have a mixed reaction to the chapter.

But certainly you have this sense that God’s people are bound up with each other, the mission of one group is the mission of all, and they must not be distracted by the dazzling opportunities along the way to obeying God’s will.

Numbers 30

Numbers has got very like Leviticus at the moment. This is rules about a woman’s vow. Men may veto them – the father of a girl, and later the husband of a wife. The assumption seems to be that women will make rash promises.

It seems terribly sexist. But no doubt in other societies women’s word meant even less. The rules here are that a husband or dad is bound by the vow by passive assent… If they do nothing after they hear about it, it stands.  So the vow of a woman becomes the vow of their protector man… not challenging their patricarchal society, but there is a small means by which women may have a voice in it.

I’d look it up but so tired this morning!

I know I don’t seem very interested in the text this morning, but I’m very aware of God’s presence in my life as I go back to work this morning. I have some clarity over some things I should do.

Numbers 26

Another census. The book started with one, a role call of over 20 year old men ready to fight… All the clans except the levites, who don’t fight. 

The Israelites are doing well, despite all the plagues, poison snakes etc. There would be about 200000 able bodied men. This is preparation for taking the holy land. 

And the point is made that none except two, Joshua and one other, were alive when they left Egypt. That generation has indeed perished without seeing the holy land. 

But their children will have the inheritance of God’s promise.

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 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.

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.

Exodus 16

Mana and quail. The lord provides. Manna, slightly sweet honey flakes, every morning for breakfast, quail, take away chicken, for dinner. For 40 years. With a cloud to guide them by day and fire by night.

I believe it. The phrase “the lord provides” just instantly filled me with comfort. And I’ve been going over 50 years. 

It’s poignant though, after a week with three deaths in it. I’ve been feeling spiritually numb. I’ll go to my uncles funeral today, it will be a great Christian celebration of a long Christian life, the least complex, in a way, of the deaths.

Thinking a lot about my family, all my children seem damaged and in pain. 

It’s a promise, a comfort, but also something of a plea. The lord provides.