Numbers 1-4

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Ever been in traffic and tried to maximize your movement by switching lanes again and again? It’s an exercise in futility really, because in traffic all lanes are equal for the most part. It’s like flipping a coin. You may get 4 heads in a row, but keep flipping and it’ll all even out between heads and tails. So it’s best to stay in one lane. Because switching lanes makes things worse. Instead of relying on the natural ebb and flow, you move during the flow just in time for the ebb. Keep switching lanes and it’s more ebbs. Ebbs upon ebbs. Meanwhile the white honda civic you were behind in the 3rd lane, who just stayed where he was at, has already gotten a good half mile ahead.

That’s not exactly how my week has been, but it gets to the point. My traffic this week was wonderful, stimulating, encouraging, motivating. But it messed with my schedule and got me behind on other tasks. I kept thinking I’ll fit in my Scripture during a free time, but when that free time came something important or delightful came up and I missed the chance.

So, instead of trying to keep changing lanes to find my free time I’m going to try to get back to a morning rhythm.

Today I have Numbers 1-4 to look at.

I immediately see why it’s named the way it is. It starts with a census, a numbering of the people. Continues on to a diagram about the camp, showing where each family is to live and where the RV hookups are located.

It’s not very interesting reading really. Am I allowed to say that? I mean it’s Scripture and all, but it’s pretty dry in this part.

One thing I remember is these really aren’t necessarily details meant for me. I’m not currently dealing with organizational principles of a mass exodus of people into a new land, and so haven’t really a pragmatic use for these verses. Yet they do tell me a few important things.

God is a God of order. He is a God who makes plans, who has practical and organizational rules alongside the moral and ethical rules. It’s not enough here to say go to the Land. Rather, God is organizing his people so there is no chaos at any point, so that the movement and the stopping is free from disorder.

God is also a God of history. Looking at these chapters I’m not struck by the elegant prose or the inspirational speeches or the mythical feats of derring-do. We’re given lists. Lists are important, if not interesting, because they are grounding the narrative in real names and real, well, numbers. They show that the writer is establishing the story within the real of real life, where there are people, and organizational problems, and lists that have to be compiled.

I also notice a third thing. There is a change in tone in this book. Before there was discussion about the people or the community. Rules about how to live in a settled peace with neighbors and fellow citizens. Now, however, we’re reading a manual of military order. The people are counted, so the number of fighting men from each tribe can be known. The tribes are organized by regiments and placed in a defensive posture around the central focus of the tabernacle.

Israel is being prepared to become a military force. The Promised Land is near. They are no longer slaves. They are a People.

Then in chapters 3 and 4 we move from the other tribes to focus on just one, the Levites, who were called God’s own tribe. They were the chosen people of the chosen people, organized for the purpose of religious tasks. Again there is order and a system set up to maintain consistent patterns of response. This goes a long way in reducing the all too strong tendency of political wrangling. Tasks stay within a family. There is always order, and little confusion about plans or assignments. The people don’t have to think, they just do their assigned tasks. This organization gets really important during times of stress or war.

So, these chapters really aren’t all that interesting. But they are important because they tell us of a change in seasons with the people of Israel, and they tell us of the order and organization of God in working with his people. They ground us in history and they provide reference material for later passages. When we hear Israel camped, from these chapters we know what that looked like.

Leviticus 22-23

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A day late shouldn’t matter right? To God a 1000 years is like a day, so we still have 999 years and 364 days to get in a post about a particular day’s passage.

I only have the verse that came to mind to add:

Romans 12:1

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

What the Law says about the sacrifices was ended by Christ on the cross. And yet we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, taking the exhortation about worship to apply to who we are, and following Christ’s commands to us as seriously as Aaron and his sons were to follow the commands here in Leviticus.

Leviticus 16-18

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Ah, I have learned not to wait until evening to write these things. Well, I’ve learned to start tomorrow not waiting until evening. I say, “Later I shall post my thoughts.” Then later has come and a project comes up, or I get a phone call, or something else happens. So, my reading hasn’t been accompanied by writing. Alas.

In Exodus 16-18 we get a bit of variety. Chapter 16 tells us of the day of atonement, that day in which the sins of the whole community are addressed and washed away, sent out into the wilderness, banished from camp. Such a wonderful ceremony really. Oh, I know, Christ has died for us, he is our sacrifice, so we don’t need such a thing anymore. But still, imagine how cleansing that was for the people. So palpable an action. They could smell the blood, and see the smoke rising, then watch the goat released into the wilderness.

Even though there were many sacrifices, and many rules, and many guidelines, there was this day in which all the mistakes and sins and errors were washed away. On this day, after the sacrifice, the people were really and truly wholly clean. How refreshing. How relaxing. It was the ultimate sabbath really.

I’ve heard it said there was another posted outside the camp who ended up killing the goat. This wasn’t an “official” act as much as symbolic.

Imagine if the goat had wandered back into camp. That’s a bad omen.

Chapter 17 is about eating blood. Or rather about not eating blood. What’s the big deal? What’s wrong with a little bloody rare steak? This is one of the few times God explains his rules. The life of a creature is in its blood. Blood is symbolic of life. Life is God’s alone. Blood can be offered as a sacrifice, offered back to God. But it can never be something a person takes, because they would be taking something that is God’s gift alone. Blood is the life of an animal, and it is the symbol of that life. So don’t eat what is God’s. That would be an abomination.

A couple of things come to mind. The first is a regular part of most of our experiences. “Drink. This is the blood shed for you.” We symbolically, or mystically at least, drink Christ’s blood, honoring the covenant his blood brought to us. We have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. The blood of all things are God’s alone. Christ gave us his blood, and gave us his life, for our lives.

The second thing that comes to mind is Acts 15. The leaders of the Church are meeting together to discuss Gentiles. Paul presents his case that Gentiles are now accepted within the People of God and without first needing to become Jews. Other Christians argue that Gentiles must first submit to the Law, because that is the symbol and reflection of God’s reality. Paul relied on his experiences. Those opposing him relied, no doubt, on the passages we’re reading. Scripture was on their side. There was a compromise.

Gentiles did not have to go through all of the rites and thus first be Jews. But, they did need to follow some rules. And they were given foundational ones. To be included Gentiles needed to avoid food sacrificed to idols. They couldn’t participate in idolatry or gain any kind of sustenance with anything connected to it.

God never, ever liked idolatry.

Then, Gentiles were to avoid sexual immorality. What qualifies as sexual immorality? Well, that’s addressed in Leviticus 18.

Finally, Gentiles were to avoid meat of strangled animals and from blood. That’s the rule the early church, as found in Acts 15 set up. This is found in our passage today, but it’s even older than that. It is one of the primal covenants. Not eating lifeblood was a rule given to Noah. Which is why the early church thought it important.

Thus, there’s a curious little connection in Leviticus 16-18. In 16 we read of the atonement, and celebrate the fact that Christ died for us, and took upon him all our sins, so that we no longer need this sacrifice. And yet, chapter 17 and 18 were still seen as binding for the earliest churches.

Interesting.

Leviticus 1-10

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Leviticus 1-10

Ah Leviticus. Oh Leviticus. Things mentioned in passing throughout the whole Bible are given space here. Which sort of makes Leviticus the reference section of the Biblical library. We learn about the different sacrifices, when they are used and how they are done. This is important stuff for us still if God ever decides to change his mind about Holy Spirit thing.

I kept wondering throughout all of these chapters why God needs this. Of course there is the broader reason. God insists his chosen people reflect him. A nation of priests must walk the line in every single part of life. Nothing is left out. By mandating all these, God is shaping their thinking, putting their souls into a mold, so they become an entirely different kind of people. They are completely without form, and so God presses them with the Law, making them think about time and space in an enforced new way.

Like lifting weights, the goal really isn’t putting a heavy bar and plates above your head. That never really comes up too much in life. But, that weightlifting builds muscles for other activities, so that in the game the muscles are strong and trained and can endure.

God is shaping his people, giving them religious exercises so they become a whole people, a strong people, and able to fight when the time comes.

Yet, I think there’s something more too. I can’t help think God gives the people all these detailed forms of worship because people really want to have laws and rules and guidelines. People want a way to express their emotions to God, and when there’s no clear guidelines, they tend to make up their own rules. Take the Golden Calf for instance.

The people want to have a liturgy and so using the cultural expressions of the time God gives them a pattern of liturgy so they will have an all encompassing expression of response, no matter the circumstance. This not only adds to worship, it also undercuts power struggles. Who can argue with the Law given by God himself? A leader becomes defined by how he responds to this Law, not how he shapes it. It’s always above him. God is always the God of the people, and his representatives can never escape this written source. Even the lowliest servant can bring accusations against the highest leader, if there is a transgression against the Law.

Thinking of Church history I see this tendency all too much. When Jesus came he fulfilled the Law. Gentiles were told we didn’t have to become Jewish first. The so-called Judaizers who wanted to impose Jewish ritual upon the early church, and with strong claims for doing so, were rebuffed.

The Spirit was among the believers, and the Spirit gave access to God like never before, and people could respond in free worship, as they felt led, united in their common, and simple, confession of Christ crucified and resurrected.

But time passed, and that yearning for Law and ritual crept in. People want guidelines, because guidelines make a person feel secure. Only Jesus didn’t give any. There’s no systematic explanation of liturgy or any other form of worship in the New Testament. So eventually these were formed, and they were solidified. People in their freedom began to tell God how he was to be worshiped. Golden calf all over again.

Only Jesus did give us some guidelines. At the beginning of his ministry he read from the Isaiah scroll:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

When John the Baptist was thrown into prison he asked whether Jesus was the One. Jesus answered:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

In Acts we see this is precisely the liturgy the early Church took upon itself as the way of worship. This is what they did. These are our sacrifices. This is our Levitical call, even as the Israelites had to butcher and burn animals.

In chapter ten of Leviticus we read of Aaron’s sons, who didn’t obey the right commands. They took shortcuts. They were killed by God. Aaron wasn’t even allowed to mourn, because Aaron was the representative priest in this nation of priests. He had to present the Law as it was given, and fight for its full expression.

We’re given the Spirit, not the Law. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to replace the Law with another, but to fulfill the Law so that we can see God and join in with his nation of priests, reflections of his love and light to this world. Do we risk the fate of Aaron’s sons? I think Matthew 25:32-46 might help with an answer.

Exodus 39-40

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So, we see the finishing of all that God commanded. There was a lot of to do, and a lot of details that tend to make our eyes glaze over.

But, at the end of it we read this:

“Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.”

I guess this is what happens when we go ahead and follow what God asks. Nice thing it’s not nearly as complicated these days.

Exodus 36-38

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Repetition. First we had the command by God to do the work. Now we have the work being done. The repetition isn’t all that interesting to read, but it’s very important because it is relating to us that the people, finally, did what God commanded. Exactly. They followed his plan to the letter.

Course, this sort of thing really helps when those who are in charge are filled with the Spirit of the Lord, the ruach elohim. The Spirit knows God, obviously.

Another thing comes to mind. Notice who we don’t hear a lot about in these chapters. Notice who is mentioned as the teachers and leaders. Moses is not the featured player. Moses who has the mantle of leadership, who is God’s chosen man, who is the one who hangs out with God and talks with him “as a friend” is not the one who is responsible. He was responsible for the telling. Bezalel and Oholiab are responsible for the doing. The Spirit of the Lord came upon them for this work, and if Moses had thought himself the leader in it he would have been in opposition to God.

Makes me think of a number of churches I’ve been a part of, where the leadership thought that because of the nature of their position they were also supposed to be in charge of everything, and couldn’t let go of the work enough to involve others. Moses knew God. And he knew that this work wasn’t his work to do. And so it was done right because he didn’t do it and didn’t butt in on it.

I think this lesson applies to more than just topics of craftsmanship.

I wonder also if this stepping back by Moses to led the Spirit work in those chosen for the work was why we have 36:4-7.

Too much was being given. So much that Moses had to tell the people to stop giving.

Such is the work when the Holy Spirit is in charge, and given freedom to work in freedom.
_________________

Exodus 33-35

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Exodus 33-35

Barely made it to these chapters. No, not me. The Israelites. They were on the verge. Just at the point God felt comfortable to share all that he was, these folks decided they wanted someone else. Maybe not a different name, but a different personality, and presentation. They decided the ways that God would like to be worshiped, and they felt that whatever they decided to offer was fine. They thought God to be like the other gods they knew.

Only they were wrong. God does not like to be mistaken for a cow. He does not like his honor attributed to any others. He doesn’t care about the reasons. Even if he hasn’t made a recent appearance he still insists his revelation is binding in all respects.
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Exodus 30-32

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I wonder about God’s conversation with Moses in chapter 32. This is one of those moments in which my preconception about God seems to be in conflict with the God I am reading about. Which is right?

That God can be pleaded with isn’t without other examples. Did he forget though? I don’t think so. Maybe it’s more the fact that in his burning anger he was willing to again start over. He could have fulfilled the promise through Moses, since Moses was within the family of Abraham too.

What seems to be clear is that God was convinced to change his mind. That is remarkable. And I think it bears a great deal on the topic of prayer. Moses doesn’t excuse the actions, but instead he argues about God’s own promises. He presents God with God. Is this a reminder because God forgot? I doubt God forgot it, but maybe God doesn’t mind his faithfulness being reflected back to him. He wants us to participate, and participate in ways that show we really do know him.

That’s the trouble with the calf. It’s meant to be a god, only God’s image is not in the calf. It’s a false image. It’s a lie. It is the projection of the people’s thoughts about gods, not God’s revelation. By creating this idol they are showing themselves to be ignorant, and misguided. God wants a relationship. He wants to be known. He first made humanity in his image, but they broke that reflection. Now he called a people to be his priests, but here they reflect a lie. God uses humanity to be a reflection, representatives, images of him in this world, but they don’t get it.

Moses does. Moses gets God. Moses knows God so much he can argue his own traits back at him. And this knowledge, this example of image and reflection, brings transformation to the situation. Those who were facing annihilation got significantly less than they deserve.

On a different note, earlier in chapter 31 there is an extraordinary couple of verses. Did you notice them? Here they are:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.”

What makes these extraordinary? This is the first time we are specifically told the Spirit of God came down on anyone. God himself announces it. And for what did the Spirit fill them? To do artistic things. The Spirit came upon Bezalel and Oholiab so they too could be creators, images of God’s creative power in building the Tabernacle.

They are the first charismatics, and it’s expressed in craftsmanship.

Exodus 25-27

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Maybe I have a question.

Why so exact? Why did God need to specify what he wanted to such precision?

As I wrote that a possible answer occurred to me. We love serving God. We want to do all sorts of things for him, and offer him the most majestic honors we can think of. But how do you give a gift to someone you don’t know? One way is to buy them something you would like, or others like that person would like. The Israelites had plenty of models. They saw what the Egyptian gods preferred, and that was their picture of what a god would want.

Only God isn’t one of those gods. His interests are different, and in all ways he wants to be distinct. From this perspective this is a wish list of sorts, a way to guide the people in their desire to give so that they give what God wants. He doesn’t want people to offer him any old thing and be happy they gave. He wants order. He wants people to listen. He wants a particular decor that from top to bottom speaks theologically of God’s character.

I’ve heard some say that this tabernacle is a reflection of the Throne room, so that there is a mirror on earth. Which is why it needed to be exact.

Instructions abound through the Bible. And to be honest these here are some of the most comforting. They don’t allow room to think. A person just follows the plan. Later on the instructions get more vague — love your neighbor. Help the poor. Edify those in the Body.

Unfortunately, the church has taken these vague commands and made their own versions of specifics, calling it tradition or church order or some other such thing. All because having a list like this here in Genesis seems tedious, but in reality its very comforting. Knowing exactly what God wants, from his own mouth, makes for easy agreement. But, it doesn’t exactly reveal a close relationship.

That comes later.

Exodus 22-24

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In reading these laws we can, I think, get a glimpse into what God sees as important. Maybe they do not all apply, and they are certainly not binding on us in the same way, but in these laws I think we can get a fair measure of applicable proverbs. Things we can voluntarily put into practice in our lives.

It might be interesting to go law by law. But that would also take a bit of time, so I’m not going to do it.

I’m going to see if we can find groupings. Well, theft is one. What does this mean? It seems God is a respecter of our private property. While there is a communal quality, he seems to understand that we have a separation from others with certain items or property. Essentially, this is an honoring of boundaries. If one person invades or takes from another they are to help the victim be restored, so there is no loss. Not only that, the inconvenience is noted and so if the original can’t be returned the thief has to pay interest, even if it means the thief goes into slavery.

God asks us to respect other people, and to respect what God has given them. No coveting, after all.

The verses following 22:16 go a different direction. Here God is showing his concern with social order, and that includes religious propriety. In the first section here we see the concern being for individual rights. Now we see the concern focusing on the rights the society has, which the individuals must be accountable for.

Included in this is a few interesting bits. One there is a clear importance put on not offending God himself. He is the source of power and life for Israel. So, don’t anger him, please. At this point he’s asking nicely. Later on in the prophets his reminders get a little more potent.

Another is that within society personal property rights are not the sole financial concern. How we treat the least among us is as, if not more important. I say more because in these verses we are told that if a person has a grievance because they were trampled in their need, God himself will respond to their cries for justice.

Sorceresses should be put to death. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal shall be put to death. Anyone who takes advantage of a widow and orphan… don’t worry about them. God himself will be their executioner. He takes such things personal apparently.

Oh, and don’t charge interests if you loan money to a poor person.

All people should be treated fairly and generously, no matter their station in life. If you try to profit off their pain, watch out for God.

Chapter 23 continues many of the same themes. God is a fair God. He is a just God. He is a compassionate God. He is an honest God. He is an upright God. Even if it hurts, do right by people. God is watching.

Justice and mercy are not merely nice words to be bandied about. For God they are eminently practical words that have absolutely pragmatic applications. Words mean something. They mean actions and responses and sometimes sacrifice.

In 23:10, however, we have a little change of pace. God has taught about justice and mercy and shared a little introduction to what and who he values. He has set up patterns for living in space together.

Now, he sets up patterns to live in time together. Six days work, then rest. Six years sow a field, on the seventh let it rest. Let a grove and a vineyard have the same sabbath year. Don’t even guard it. Let loose all responsibility for it during that year. Let the poor and animals take what they want.

Reminds me of John 3:16. For God so loved the world, he sent his son. The world is also in need of rest, and just as sin trashes our inner being, too much overwork is too much for the land itself. To live right, there has to be patterns of work and rest, for us and for everything.

Three times during the year, God commands, party. It’s the law. Feast. Dance. Celebrate God’s work. Remind yourselves three times during the year what God has done and be thankful for it.

Oh, and don’t cook a goat in its mothers milk.

The Sabbath is an ordering of the present, giving it over to God. Passover is the mark of the Past. In 23:20, God gives order to the future. He is establishing himself as being in control of space and time, so that here he says exactly what his angel will do, so that the People can live and act in such ways as reflects the angels actions. They can live in hope. They can live in promise. They can live in victory.

God will act, therefore live in such a way as though God already acted. The future determines the past. God’s promises echo back into the present changing hearts and minds, so they can live without the fears and worries that the present always offers, as well as put aside the regrets the past constantly brings up. The People of God are people who live in the power of the future, and so change the present by reflecting God in ways of hope and life and joy and thanksgiving.

I’m struck by how much 23:20-33 reminds me of another teaching later on. This section is very much like the book of Revelation, though plenty shorter.

Chapter 24 wraps this first law giving up. Moses goes and meets with God, who finalizes this telling with the ceremony of sacrifice and tablets.

God has in the last five chapters given a very well rounded revelation of himself, setting out briefly and succinctly what he values and who he is. He is a God of justice and fairness, he is a respecter of individuals and of community. He does not despise the rich but he very much looks after the poor. He demands order in space and in time. These laws are meant for the people of Israel. They are not random bits of good ideas, but instead they are specific patterns of living that if followed will reflect God to this entire world.

We can see God in these laws. See him quite clearly in fact.