You know, I’ve sat here for quite a while reading and re-reading this chapter, wondering and asking God what it actually says.
There’s a huge part of me that loves this chapter; that’s the warrior, the part of me that craves the hunt or the battle. There’s another part of me that’s reading this and wondering how God could just tell the Israelites to kill off all these people; and then there’s a third, logical part of me, that recognises that there was really only one way that the Israelites were going to be able to settle and make their lives in the promised land – and that was if they’d already taken care of their enemies.
I wonder if I misjudged Balaam back when he showed up earlier in this book. He ends up killed, and then it turns out that he was the one who urged the women to seduce the Israelite men into worshiping Ba’al idols. Seems a long way from a guy who just before that had a fairly major God encounter.
Still, what I noticed as I kept reading through this chapter was the plunder. The Israelites came out with a fairly massive list of plunder – sheep, cattle, donkeys and women.
And they are reminded to give some to God.
I sometimes think that it’s harder to give and acknowledge God in the good times; and in particular, in moments of victory.
As humans, we’re an egotistical race. It’s simple fact, we’re self-centred and self-focussed a lot of the time. Therefore, when we have a victory in our lives, we’re the ones who want the glory. We want to say that it was us who did it. It was through our efforts.
It’s one thing to cry out to God when we need help. It’s another thing to cry out to him when we’ve just come off a big win.
Not only did the Israelites remember God when they came out victorious, but the commanders of the army that went out against Midian brought all the gold that they managed to claim and gave it to God.
We need to remember God – not only remember him, but include him and cry out to him when he provides us with victory.
Okay. First thought of the evening. These guys had a lot of sheep.
Every day they’re told they are to bring two lambs as an offering to God; then on the sabbath, two more in addition to that, then there are monthly offerings, the passover and the ‘Feast of Weeks’ which sounds to me like it’s the harvest celebration.
This is somewhere in the vicinity of 1000 lambs being given in offering every year; not to mention that they still have to feed themselves – probably somewhere around 2 million people. Now this doesn’t sound like much; after all, that’s only about a third of the population of Melbourne, let alone the rest of Australia. These guys, though, were on the move! They’re living as nomads, and driving around I don’t even want to know how many sheep, cattle, camels, and probably other creatures as well.
Even if other kings believed the Israelites were peaceful, I can’t help thinking that they had some logic behind not wanting the Israelites to cross their land. They might not actually eat anything from it, but two million people and however many million sheep, cattle and livestock are going to do some damage no matter how careful they are! The Israelites certainly would have made an impact on the landscape, wherever they were.
You know, it’s sometimes hard to give to God.
I’m not talking necessarily about putting money in the offering bucket at a church meeting; although that’s part of it, I’m talking about just having a generous spirit in the first place.
Whether it’s time, finance, energy, emotion, whatever it might be, sometimes it’s hard to give it to God. Yet here, we see that every day the Israelites were remembering their God, they were giving something to him every day. And in fact, twice a day – one of the lambs was to be sacrificed in the morning and one in the evening.
The Israelites were commanded to, twice a day, stop and give to God; stop and reflect on him.
I will admit that I’m not necessarily as regular as I should be when it comes to spending time with God; to giving to him of my time, my self, my energy, my heart and mind and soul. This passage is challenging me, to spend time – morning and evening – with God. Twice a day to give of who I am, and what I can, to just come to him and say how great he is; how appreciated he is; how awesome and wonderful he is.
Morning and evening.
So, we started Numbers with a census, and now it’s time for another one.
There’s a lot more detail in this census, which makes it great for geeks like me who get amazed and intrigued wondering just who everyone was, and how the nation all fit together and crazy things like that. Here we get the names of the clans broken down inside each tribe, rather than just a broad number of descendants of each of Jacob’s sons.
The first thing that stands out to me as I’m reading this chapter, is that the number’s actually gone down. I guess it’s to be expected; they’re wandering in the desert, but more importantly, they’ve angered God so many times, it’s probably a miracle that their numbers aren’t even less by this point than they are! Through plagues, earthquakes, fire, snakes and other things, it wouldn’t have been a great surprise if the number had been halved.
God goes on to speak about the inheritance that he has for each of them in the land of Canaan; and how it shall be divvied up by lots between them. Throughout the history of what’s been happening, I wonder whether there were some tribes who caused more grief than others. I wonder if there was reason for God to suggest that one tribe had been better behaved, therefore could have more land, or better land. Still, he makes sure that it’s divvied up evenly and fairly between those who received the inheritance.
I can’t help feeling something standing out to me now as I’m writing this, and reach the passage about the Levites.
All the male Levites a month old or more numbered 23,000. They were not counted along with the other Israelites because they received no inheritance among them.” ~ Numbers 26:62
See, there’s something that I’ve felt God laying on my heart over the past few months, and something I’ve become more comfortable with as those months have gone by. That’s the idea or concept that I might never actually own a home, I might never have the settled life that a lot of people crave; and it doesn’t worry me so much any more. I have to say I’ve struggled, at times, with the idea that some people do live off the generosity of others, and it comes down to the culture that we live in, one that says you can’t get something for nothing, I think.
Still, the best gift we ever received was for nothing.
The Levites were the ones dedicating their lives to the service of God; and in return, they gave up their rights to own property, or have an ordinary job or source of income. They lived on the generosity of the people, through what the Israelites brought to God.
Ultimately, and honestly, I believe that would be the next best freedom we can receive, after the gift of Grace through Jesus. The freedom to live totally in dedication to God; where materialism is not a driving factor.
Finally in this chapter, we see that it’s now at a point where all of the Israelites who came out of Egypt have died, save for Joshua and Caleb. It’s starting to get to the exciting point; it’s almost time to step into their promised land.
I have a confession to make. I struggle with giving as a love language. I seriously do.
Which makes things hard at Christmas time.
Last weekend at The Way Church, was a Christmas Carols service; and during the night they punctuated the singing with a little skit about a detective who had been hired to find the true meaning of Christmas. He started off in a Department Store with the cashier, then the store Santa; following that he went to a family Christmas dinner and then to a church. What I found interesting was the way they conveyed the family. They portrayed a family with a stressed mother who was freaking out about the fact that she had dozens of relatives showing up, all expecting to be fed, she had to cook and prepare for all of them, and then would probably have to clean up afterwards.
Her heart wasn’t in it, it was about something that she HAD to do. It was an obligation, a requirement, and therefore, a pressure that caused stress, irritation, frustration, anger, blame, etcetera.
That’s sometimes how I feel about gifts. Not all the time, but sometimes. It’s not about the love behind the gift, it’s about the gift itself. Giving sometimes feels like an obligation – especially at Christmas time in today’s society. Christmas is all about the gifts. Even in church tonight, part of the farewell from the Pastor was a hope that everyone gets great gifts.
Sorry, gifts aren’t Christmas.
Christmas is about Love. God gave us Jesus, yes. Jesus gave his life, yes. But the essence of Christmas comes down to perhaps the world’s best known bible verse.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16
Before God gave, he loved. God so loved the world that he gave…
I love giving out of love; this is something that I’ve realised in recent months, that I am actually a lot more generous than I probably previously realised. The difference is, though, that when you’re giving out of love, rather than obligation, it’s all so much easier.
God gave out of love. Jesus gave his life out of love for us. That’s what this season needs to be about, not gifts – love.
So I had to do the title with this chapter. For those who don’t know what I’m on about, there’s a comedy sketch that I found quite funny in the past from Eddie Izzard.
So the chapter’s weird, it’s like we get this strange little interruption. First it’s all on topic, oil and bread to be set before the Lord. It’s more tabernacle rules about how to lay out the bread in the Tabernacle. This bread was holy bread, specifically there for the priests to eat in a holy place. Incense needed to be burned, oil lamps needed to be lit, and then they had a specific recipe for the special Tabernacle bread.
Then suddenly we just cut into an actual story, as opposed to the last 24 chapters of rules, regulations, guidelines and directions.
I do find it interesting that this person was the child of an Egyptian father and an Israelite mother. I wonder, was the father with them? Was the mother alone? What is the backstory of this character who doesn’t even receive a name in the bible (only his mother is named).
The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) ~ Leviticus 24:11
I’ve always wondered exactly what defines blasphemy. This particular character blasphemes “the Name” with a curse. The Name, I’m assuming, being the unspoken Hebrew term for God. So does it mean that he cursed this person by God’s name? I don’t know.
The Israelites, though, appeared to be uncertain how to deal with this at this point. I mean yes, God had said in the Ten Commandments not to take his name in vain, but unless I’m mistaken, there hadn’t been to this point, a definitive punishment for breaking that commandment. So they waited on God, and asked him what to do.
And the response is death. By stoning.
I find it interesting, also, that anyone who heard the blasphemy was to stand with the blasphemer and lay their hands on his head. Verse 15 says that the person who blasphemes will be held responsible. It’s like the people who heard it, who bore witness to it are required to remain involved through to the end. I wonder if this is to do, again, with how sacred ‘the Name’ was for the Israelites. That even hearing it, rather than just saying it, was taboo – and so resting their hands on the blasphemer’s head as they were stoned was like cleansing themselves of it, because the blasphemer was the one to take responsibility.
You know, responsibility’s a tricky issue when it comes to others.
I’ve been a strong believer in the idea that you aren’t responsible for how other people take you. I am myself, and I am how God made me – if someone else has issues with that, then so be it.
But our actions can directly influence, or directly effect other people. The above line ‘being yourself’ only goes so far. Actions that directly effect another person do fall under our responsibility. ‘Being yourself’ is not a right to offend or hurt other people. We need to be aware that other people are effected by our actions.
That’s what I took from that story, anyway.
Well, as if the week wasn’t already exciting enough.
I got to work this morning. Early again so that I can get some stuff done on the database before everyone else arrives. I’m there for long enough to switch my computer on, log in, open up and start reading the emails that I have. Then blank.
The power went out.
Apparently the entire grid crashed. Traffic lights were down – in peak hour traffic – the building was completely switched off. I heard that there was someone stuck on the top floor of our building – which to me says they were in the lift, since otherwise they could well have used the fire escape stairs to get up and down.
It’s just one of those weeks I guess. I’m actually getting more and more okay with it as the week goes on. Things just keep going wrong and I just keep smiling my way through it. There’s no point letting it get you down, because that’s not going to change anything.
Now if only I could apply that logic to every aspect of my life. Work’s one thing, applying it across the board’s another thing entirely.
Well, it’s party time!
God goes through and tells Moses all the celebrations and feasts that the Israelites should celebrate. I’m intrigued to know where they fit with the normal calendar. The reason being that most religious festivals in history were celebrated alongside seasonal changes.
But I love parties, and apparently God does too.
Which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
He starts off with the Sabbath. Not necessarily a ‘festival’ so to speak, but a day specifically set aside for him. I love this idea, too. It’s not only a day for God, but it’s a day for the people. God’s not only telling them to come celebrate him, but he’s telling them just to take a day off.
“Chill out and relax for a day, spend that day with me.”
Then comes the Passover, and the feast of unleavened bread. First, a reminder of what God did to bring them out of Egypt, and then seven days of purification. Leaven was symbolic of sin, thus the purification.
Firstfruits comes back to the point from chapter 22, about giving God the best. God doesn’t just ask for the best, he asks for the first. He expects to be first in our lives, and so in bringing him the first of what is received, it’s a demonstrated action of placing God first; above even our own needs.
Now the feast of weeks, it follows on from the Firstfruits, but I’m curious… From reading this, I’m assuming that this was a communal giving. Seven male lambs, each a year old, and other animals as well. That’s a LOT of stuff to bring; and a LOT of stuff to cook. It doesn’t seem feasible that this could be the requirements of each person, does it?
Trumpets. Another day of rest, a day again, dedicated just to relaxing – with trumpets. Chilling out at a jazz bar sounds a good way to celebrate this feast.
The day of Atonement is perhaps my favourite. I love the concept of atonement, the purification of ourselves from our sins, making us holy and washed clean before God.
Finally the feast of Tabernacles. This was the major party, it would seem. Don’t you wish these days that we had week-long public holidays? Have an entire week off to celebrate, and give glory to God.
Today was flat out.
Apart from issues still flowing on from yesterday, there was a lot of work going on as well.
I don’t mind busy days, though. The time just goes fast. Before I knew it, it was 4PM, and I was due to go home (after starting early and skipping lunch). So I finally left fifteen minutes later, not too bad really.
But that’s the extent of my day. Barbecue this evening with some wonderful people.
I’m doing alright, really. Or trying to!
There’s a definite focal point of this chapter. It sort of flows on from last night about the priests being required to live more spiritually than physically in some perspectives.
However as I read this chapter I found a slightly different focus. It wasn’t about the priests themselves, but about the people. Chapter 21 basically said to the priests, that they were to be holy before God; that they weren’t to have the same level of concern for the things of the world as the every day Israelite.
Chapter 22, though, speaks about the people.
If we start with the second half of the chapter, from verse 17 onwards, we see what God expects from the people when they bring a sacrifice. The animals are to be perfect, flawless. They aren’t to be deformed or blemished, they aren’t to be blind or lame.
It’s a lot easier to give away something that we don’t really have use for, isn’t it. We’re coming up to Christmas, and one of the greatest times of the year where we find ourselves inundated with things that we’re probably never going to use, or look at again after they’ve been cleared off the table in the week after Christmas. I know I’ve known people in the past who actually store their unwanted Christmas presents away, and then pull them out as gifts for other people next year. Of course the danger with that is forgetting who gave you what, and giving a present straight back!
A lame cow, or a blind cow, or one that was deformed probably was a bit like those unwanted Christmas gifts. It wasn’t really worth keeping. So of course, it would be easy to just give the deformed one as a sacrifice. It’s better off – that way it’s not actually chewing up the food that could be used by the animals who would one day provide money back to their owner.
But God didn’t want the deformed cows. He still doesn’t. God wants to be given the best, he wants to know that he’s actually more important than our resources. That we trust him to continue to provide for us even if we give away the best of what we have.
Going back to the first part of the chapter, though, the priests are also told that they are to treat these sacrifices with the respect deserved of someone offering the best of what they have to God. The priests aren’t to be unclean in any way. They are the representatives of God who accept the sacrifices on his behalf, so they are to be holy and pure, not only for God, but also for the people offering them.
The offerings that the people brought were special, and weren’t to be enjoyed by just anyone. That would be disrespectful to the one who brought the offering.
I think we need to remember this thing about the best. God doesn’t want to be just the leftover in our lives. He doesn’t want to be given the deformed cow. He doesn’t want to just receive some Christmas gift that we got last year and recycled this year. God wants to be placed above all of that. He wants to be cherished. He wants to be special. He wants to be respected.
I went ice skating tonight.
That was a novel experience. I’ve been once before, with a friend many years ago. Her and I were the only two people on the rink that afternoon so the staff dimmed the lights, put on all their ballads and just let us go. It would have been a sweet and even more memorable time had she been a girlfriend, I guess!
I don’t seem to recall it being that difficult at the time, though. I think I fell over a couple of times, but I recalled being okay with it.
Plus, I was always pretty good at roller blading, and it’s always been my mentality that ice skating and roller blading are basically the same things, except on ice and wheels respectively.
Believe me, that’s not the case.
I fell twice – both times fairly spectacularly. Given that I’m already nursing a cracked rib, I’m now also nursing some bruises on my knees and elbows, and the rib is more painful than it was.
But, it’s just a case of sucking it up. I’m pretty cynical about doctors, and they can’t do anything besides “pain management” anyway, so I’ll just deal.
Ice skating was fun, though.
Later in the evening also came another small breakthrough on the front of those personal relationships. Still a long way to go though.
Well, we had the atonement offering, now we’re on to grain offerings.
Interesting, though. These really seem to be offerings that are there to feed and provide for the priests.
With 600,000-odd Israelite men (let alone women and children), this was a big group. I doubt Aaron and his sons had time to scratch themselves, let alone eat – or actually gather their own food to eat. These guys were probably all day – from sunrise to after sunset – burning offerings to God. How did they eat? Well, God had it organised. Those people who brought grain offerings would provide some of it to the Lord, and then the rest would be given to Aaron and his sons, I’m assuming so that they can actually eat!
But out of curiousity – where did they get the grain from?
These guys were nomads, right? I mean, okay, at this point it’s probably reasonable that they still had some from when they left Egypt, but they’re wandering the desert. It’s not like they can actually wander back and forth, left and right etcetera, when they’ve got grain planted. They were living off manna and quail provided by God. So where did the grain come from?
Perhaps it was just in preparation. The idea wasn’t initially for the Israelites to wander the desert for forty years. The initial idea was to go up to Canaan and they’d enter the land promised to their forefathers.
I do like, though, the title “Memorial Portion” – It’s like deliberately remembering God by giving a memorial portion of what he’s provided to us back to him.
I’m quite terrified about the week ahead.
Work’s been giving me more and more responsibility, basically by the day almost over the past month or two. Which is great, don’t get me wrong about that – but this week is the first conference that I’ve basically done the organisation for by myself; which means, anything that goes wrong is going to be my responsibility to deal with – and my ear that gets chewed by angry people down the phone line.
I mean, I’m reasonably confident that I have everything sorted, and probably just being overly cautious, but I’m worrying about all the things that could go wrong. The whole company is basically relying on me to have got everything set up and organised properly so that their conference is a success. Well, all I can do is hope.
Any prayers that people can offer would be great in the meantime, that all goes smoothly and is successful. Thanks very much.
You know, the introduction to this chapter intrigues me.
The Israelites, day after day after day, kept bringing more and more offerings to help build the tabernacle. They’ve brought so much that the people working on building it have to put down their tools, go up to Moses and tell him that they have too much. Moses then has to go to the Israelites and tell them to stop giving! Stop!
Imagine the impact that there would be on the world, if people gave so much that they had to be asked to stop giving. I’m not just talking about to God and the church, but just in general.
I haven’t ever seen the whole movie Pay It Forward, but I know – and absolutely love – the concept. It’s so brilliant. Just imagine a world where people stopped and thought about someone else. They stopped and just gave something to another person.
Today at church, there was quite a theme that I brought out of it, of generosity, of love, of giving – of having the mindset that I come second, and others come first.
We live in a world that is ruled by “ME”. We’re taught, we encourage each other, we live life with the attitude that we need to look after ourselves first. We can’t give to others, unless we have enough to spare – and enough to spare is enough not only after our necessities, but after all the other bonuses and good things that we want to get for ourselves as well.
Imagine what would happen if we flipped that around. Imagine what would happen if we suddenly decided that we were going to give to others, out of what we don’t have?
Once the Israelites have stopped giving, though, then the workers can get on with building the tabernacle.
Are these the same Israelites? Only a few days or weeks (months maybe?) before, they were whining and complaining. Moses had taken too long on the mountain, so they gave their earrings to Aaron and he popped the gold into a fire, and out came a golden calf. Now, suddenly, they’re all on board with God and the tabernacle.
It’s quite amazing. God doesn’t want us to have idols, or even images that we worship. What he does want, though, is for there to be a place of worship.
Now that doesn’t have to be a tabernacle, or a church – it can be a lounge room with some friends, or a park, or even a car. Wherever is convenient.
However he does emphasise there being a place of worship. A place where humans can come together and be in relationship, not only with God but with each other.
Relationships are good. I have some wonderful friends who just light up my days. It doesn’t take away from my relationship with God, in fact, those people strengthen it, because we can exhort and encourage, as well as pull each other into line if need be.
We’re not meant to walk this life alone. We’re meant to have people around us, and this is one of the purposes God had in ensuring a place of worship was built – to bring us together so that we can build relationships with each other. Our relationships with each other also bring us closer to God.
People tell me that sleep is a good thing. I tell others that sleep is a good thing. Apparently, my body’s forgotten that fact of late. It’s partially my own fault, yes, but not completely!
I’ve been thinking a lot about trust, of late. Trust in relationships, in family – and in particular, in God. I’m feeling challenged, which is probably a good thing. It’s like God’s really challenging me to move towards a point where I truly have faith, and truly am in a position to trust in him for everything. And that’s scary just to think about – let alone actually walk into that position. Gratefully, he’s taking me there slowly – I think – you never know when his timing just leaps forward.
Just to clarify, something, too. I feel that now’s the time to say it aloud: I have come back into God’s family. Don’t ask me how, because I’m still trying to figure that one out myself. It doesn’t change who I am, it doesn’t change the way I look at things, but what it does change, is who I have helping me with the questions I was asking in the past.
But trust, yes. There’s a big adventure coming up in my life, and I might have an idea, but I don’t exactly know what’s going on just yet. All I do know is that I’m standing at the beginning of an adventure trail, and the journey I’m facing is intimidating. It’s time, though, for me to start stepping into the next level, a level of fulfilment, faith and freedom. I might be intimidated, but I have no reason to be afraid.
This really sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Didn’t we just do this?
No matter which way you read this chapter, you can’t be completely impressed with Abraham. Either he’s just completely forgotten everything that happened in Egypt, and all the promises God’s made to him, and let fear take over once again – or, he’s stumbled onto a great little way to make extra money. I’m probably likely to think the first one.
Or a third option. Remembering that all these tales were handed down via oral tradition – the story is so similar to what happened in Egypt, that a part of me wonders if the tradition got separated somewhere along the line, with the same story being retold but in two different locations, and then further down the line they were once again reintegrated. That’s just me, though.
It’s so easy, isn’t it, to forget about all the blessings we’ve received, all the positives, all the great things in life. It’s so easy to let fear take over and we suddenly find ourselves back a few steps, all the progress that we’ve made has been wiped away, like trying to climb out of a hole, getting half way up, and then something happens and once again you’re back at the bottom. That’s almost what this seems to be like for Abraham. In spite of everything that he’s seen, heard and been through, he gets caught up in this fear that his wife (who, by the way, is now what, in her 90s?) is going to get him killed for being her husband.
But once again, they’re blessed. I guess Abimilech, in spite of being deceived, still accepted that Abraham’s obviously a chosen one of God, and therefore in giving Abraham all these gifts, he’s in a way, offering a tribute to God also – kind of like Abraham did with Melchizidek.
It would be easy for Abimilech to feel hard done by – and even easier for him to think that he should actually get some compensation from Abraham. After all, he was the one who got deceived, right? But no, he gives.