Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Day 56: Deuteronomy 16 - 18

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. (Deuteronomy 18:15)

This passage gives two tests for the office of prophet: 1) If a person claims to speak in the name of another god, no matter how accurate his prediction, that person is not a prophet and must be put to death. 2) If a person claims to speak in the name of the Lord, but what he says does not come true, then that person is not a prophet and must be put to death.

But the words spoken by the prophets were not necessarily predictive in nature. Most of the prophet's message was forthtelling rather than foretelling. In other words, most of what a prophet spoke was God's message for those to whom he was speaking. This is not to say there is no benefit for the 21st century reader of such prophecies, but that the message made sense to the people who were physically hearing it. In other words, the message for us should not be 180° opposite (totally unrelated) to the message intended for the original audience.

In Jesus' day, when people read that God would raise up a prophet like Moses from among the people of Israel, that Moses-like prophet was considered to be none other than Jesus Christ himself. When we get to the book of Matthew, we'll see to what great lengths that gospel writer went to identify Jesus with Moses.

Day 55: Deuteronomy 13 - 15

There should be no poor among you. (Deuteronomy 15:4)

There's much in these three chapters we could talk about. Chapter 13 emphasizes how important it is not to fall for any teaching that would draw us away from God. The writer gives three examples where people could be tempted to believe a lie. 1) Don't follow false teaching even if the people who proclaim it back up their words with some flashy miracle; 2) Don't follow false teaching even if someone you love tells you it's true; and 3) Don't follow false teaching even if everyone else follows it - the majority has been wrong before.

Chapter 15 speaks about the Sabbath year for cancelling debts. There should be no poor among you. It's not the poor this passage is aimed at, but those with plenty. Do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (Deuteronomy 15:7,8)

This reminds me of Proverbs 19:17 - If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord - and he will repay you!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Day 54: Deuteronomy 10 -12

And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? (Deuteronomy 10:12)

One thing I like about Deuteronomy is how it encapsulizes the entire 40 year wilderness experience into 34 readable chapters. When reading Exodus through Numbers (especially Leviticus), it's easy to think God is all about rules and regulations, but Deuteronomy boils it down to what's really important: What does the Lord ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10:12,13)

And did you catch that last part? For your own good? It's important to remember that God's laws are good for us. God created us to live in loving relationship with him and with people. When left to our own devices, we often abuse our freedom by damaging those relationships - even unintentionally - but obeying God's laws restores them.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Day 53: Deuteronomy 7 - 9

Place your comments and questions here.

Day 52: Deuteronomy 4 - 6

Place your comments and questions here.

Day 51: Deuteronomy 1 - 3

Place your comments and questions here.

Deuteronomy Briefing

Sorry it's been a few days.

Let me share a quick preview of one of my favorite books in the Bible - Deuteronomy. First, the name means Second Law. This name comes in part because of Chapter 5's repetition of the Ten Commandments.

Deuteronomy is quite probably the Book of the Law found by Hilkiah the Priest during the reign of Judah's last good king Josiah (for whom we chose Will's middle name). You can find this story in 2 Kings 22, and it's followed in the 23rd chapter by the widesweeping reform Josiah initiated because of that remarkable find.

The Deuteronomic Covenant is written in the form of an Ancient Near East Suzerain Treaty. In this treaty form and in Deuteronomy, a superior king (in our case God) sets the terms of the treaty with his vassal (in our case Israel). In most of these treaties the king informs the vassal what he will provide in exchange for his protection. In Deuteronomy, all God's conditions have already been fulfilled through bringing Israel out of Egyptian bondage.

Keep in mind, Moses is sharing this information with Israel on the Plains of Moab, directly across the Jordan River from the Promised Land. It is his farewell address. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day 50: Numbers 34 - 36

Select some towns to be your cities of refuge. (Numbers 35:11)

These closing chapters of Numbers deal with boundaries to define tribal allotments (ch. 34), boundaries to protect land from osmosing from one tribe to another (ch. 36), and boundaries to protect innocent people accused of murder (ch. 35).

People who think Old Testament laws are harsh must not realize the lengths these laws go to protect the accused. Customs often demanded the death penalty for stealing or simply injuring someone. Biblical laws introduced the concept that the punishment must fit the crime. An eye for an eye was not cruel; it was a limit placed on punishment to protect the life of the defendant.

Another example of these limits is that a person could not be executed on the witness of only one person. The biblical laws stated that testimony in a capital case must be corroborated at the very least by a second witness.

Likewise, cities of refuge were set up to protect the life of a person who accidentally killed someone. Sometimes vigilantes would hunt down and execute the offender. The problem is, the death may have been accidental, but the execution take place before the defendant got the chance to tell his side of the story.

Harsh? Maybe not as harsh as some would believe.
Considering Jesus' admonishment that we should have compassion on the prisoner (Mt. 25:34-40), I guess we shouldn't be surprised that same compassion would be extended to defendants prior to conviction.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day 49: Numbers 31 - 33

The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. (Number 32:1)

Two and a half tribes (Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh) got to looking around on the east side of the Jordan, came to Moses and said, Gilead been veddy veddy goood to me. (Okay, this is a very, very obscure 1970s Saturday Night Live reference - you'd have to be really sad and strange to get it.)

At first, Moses was incensed, thinking these three tribes were abandoning the rest of the nation just as they were about to cross into Canaan to drive out the inhabitants of the land. This didn't set well with Moses until they assured him they would participate in the battle campaigns for Canaan, and then return to their wives and children in Gilead.

While Moses gave his blessing to the request of these three tribes, it really didn't end well. There was never really a strong connection between these transJordan tribes and the rest of Israel. As we continue to read, we will find the references to them are few and far between.

Day 48: Numbers 28 - 30

If her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her. (Numbers 30:8)

This passage speaks to the seriousness of keeping one's promises, and how important it is to keep from making vows rashly.

At first glance, it might seem this passage is demeaning to women, who can have their vows overridden by their fathers or husbands. However, that's not the point. The purpose of this regulation is not to demean women, but to protect them. On the other hand, it also protects husbands and families from being burdened with debts racked up by non-worldly wise wives and daughters.

As an example of another biblical writer's honor and respect for successful businesswomen, see Proverbs 31.

Have you ever made a promise and later wished you could get out of it?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Day 47: Numbers 25 - 27

The men began to indulge in sexual immorality with the Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods. (Numbers 25:1,2)

This is the second installment of Balaam’s story. I’ve never really understood why, from the reporting of chapters 23 and 24, that Balaam would have been sentenced to death. I mean he didn’t curse Israel. This time through I’ve gained a little information. Even though his name is not mentioned again until the report of his death in chapter 31, many biblical scholars think Balaam was behind Moab’s second tier attack – namely the seduction of the Israelites.

On the surface, this speaks to the determination of Moab to defeat the Hebrew people. Balak felt threatened by Israel, and when a frontal military assault (Plan A) proved impractical, he attempted a side door attack (Plan B) through his agent (Balaam). When that proved unsuccessful, Balaam apparently discovered where the men of Israel were weak, and attacked them via their sexual appetites (Plan C).

For a spiritual application, this speaks to Satan’s dogged determination to interfere with our connection to God. Just because he is blocked on one front doesn’t mean he will give up. That’s why we need to be honest about our weaknesses, put on our spiritual armor and take guard every day.

Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (James 1:14)

The front door to your heart is probably locked and well-protected; what about the back door?

Day 46: Numbers 22 - 24

Balaam's Donkey: "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?"
Balaam: "You have made a fool of me!" (Numbers 22:28,29)

I love this story. We have the Israelites camping on the Plains of Moab (north end of the Dead Sea – east side of the Jordan opposite Jericho), which is where they will stay until Joshua leads them across the river. While they are camped there, Balak king of Moab sees their military strength and decides on a preemptive strike, enlisting the help of an internationally renowned diviner named Balaam.

When Balaam gives in to Balak's demands, he protests that he cannot do anything counter to what God tells him. However, that doesn’t mean Balaam served Yahweh God of the Israelites. To Balaam Yahweh was just another tribal god who could be manipulated by magic arts.

Even though Balaam was warned not to curse the people of Israel, he still didn't take seriously the power of Yahweh. The image of his donkey reading him the riot act always makes me smile. I think the conversation should have gone more like this.

Balaam's Donkey: "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?"
Balaam: "You made me look like a fool!"
Donkey: "You definitely look like a fool, but I didn't make you look that way!"

The story continues in our next reading, and then Balaam's death is little more than a footnote in chapter 31.

Have you ever misunderestimated God?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Day 45: Numbers 19 - 21

Bring . . . a red heifer without defect or blemish. (Numbers 19:2)

The red heifer was different from all the sacrifices detailed in Leviticus. First off, the red heifer was not sacrificed; it was slaughtered – outside the camp – nowhere near the bronze altar. Second, sacrificial animals were males; the red heifer was female. Third, sacrificial animals were not burned whole; the red heifer was.

The finished product, for which the ashes of the red heifer were the main ingredient, was cleansing water. This water was specifically formulated to restore a person’s ritual cleanness after that person came into contact with a dead body. This was a gift of grace, allowing a family member to minister to the deceased, knowing that their cleanness could be restored.

Hebrews 9:13-14 explains how, as the ashes of the red heifer cleanse the ceremonially unclean allowing them to continue in relationship with the community, the blood of Christ cleanses us from our uncleanness allowing us to live in relationship with God.

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus
O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow
No other fount I know; nothing but the blood of Jesus [1]

[1] W/M: Robert Lowry – published 1876 – public domain

Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 44: Numbers 16 - 18

Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly? (Numbers 16:3)

How could Moses be so misunderstood? He didn't have a self-serving bone in his body. He had left the luxuries of Pharaoh's palace to defend the nation of Israel. He had placed himself between God's wrath and the people, interceding for them on more than one occasion.

What precipitated this uprising? Was it the failed incursion into the Promised Land or the resulting defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and Canaanites? Or was it the Sabbath breaker whose execution was ordered by Moses (speaking for the Lord, of course)? Or something completely different?

Basically what we have here is one of the most tragic business meetings in church history. Democracy is a beautiful thing, but doesn't always have the best results in the church.

So much for getting out the vote.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day 43: Numbers 13 - 15

We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. (Numbers 14:4)

Obviously the problem here was not the lack of a leader, but the lack of followers. Of the twelve spies, ten saw only the problems, while Joshua and Caleb saw the possibilities. And, as usual, the naysayers carried the day.

When I stand before my judge, I pray that I'm not counted with those who stopped the forward momentum of the church because I thought my glass was half empty.

The Israelites wanted to choose a leader who would take them back to Egypt. In other words, they were looking for someone who would take polls and follow majority rule. That's not leadership. Leaders don't let a group turn tail because of fear; they confront that fear and find one way or another to move the group forward.
If you see only the problems, find a leader who sees the potential.

Day 42: Numbers 10 - 12

Place your comments or questions here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Day 41: Numbers 7 - 9

They may assist . . . but they themselves must not do the work. (Numbers 8:26)

How about that Chapter 7, huh? But let's look at Chapter 8.

Here is Israel's blueprint for apprenticeship, career, mentoring and retirement. Notice that Levite men could start working at age 25. After a 25-year career, they encountered the Levitical retirement requirement. But they didn't retire to Florida to play shuffleboard the rest of their lives. They retired to teach.

They may have initiated the age old mentoring formula: 1) I do; 2) I do, you watch; 3) I do, you help; 4) We do together; 5) You do, I help; 6) You do, I watch; and 7) You do.

Who mentored you? Who are you mentoring?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 40: Numbers 4 - 6

Post your comments and questions from Numbers 4-6 here.

I'll try to make it up to you soon.

Day 39: Numbers 1 - 3

Post your comments and questions from Numbers 1-3 here.

Day 38: Leviticus 25 - 27

Friends, I have been swamped over the past few days.

Post your comments or questions from Leviticus 25-27 here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Day 37: Leviticus 22 - 24

Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. (Leviticus 24:16)

Notice here the responsibility of the accusing party. It's not enough that an anonymous charge be made against the offender. Witnesses for the prosecution must look the defendant in the eye, lay hands on him, and take part in his execution.

The term witness (n. - martus in the Greek - martyr is from the same root), refers not to someone who just throws some mud and hopes it sticks, but to someone who is willing to sacrifice... to pay in order to make the truth known.

In John 8:59 and 10:31, the Jewish leaders attempt to stone Jesus. The verse for today explains why, but not why he was eventually crucified instead.
How does this understanding of the word "witness" impact our responsibility in telling the truth? In telling what Christ has done for us?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

January (Yes, January) Reading Links

Probably sometime tomorrow I'm going to delete the January reading links in the left column. Don't have a panic attack! You can go to Bible Gateway, choose your translation and passage, and read to your heart's content.

Day 36: Leviticus 19 - 21

Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2)

I used to dread this verse as an impossible command, a requirement with which I could not comply. In his book Rebuilding the Real You, Pastor Jack Hayford invites us to receive this verse as a promise, rather than a threat.

It is no secret that a child may inherit a receding hairline, big feet, or a cleft in his/her chin, from a parent. God is our parent, and God is holy. God's DNA is holiness (another time we'll talk about how this holiness - or wholeness - is summed up in Galatians 5:22-23 and called fruit of the Spirit), and as his children, that DNA is our inheritance. We don't have to scuffle and scheme to be holy; we simply have to receive what God already wants to give us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Day 35: Leviticus 16 - 18

On this day atonement will be made for you. (Leviticus 16:30)

Chapter sixteen is where we find instructions for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). This was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place (Holy of holies), to make atonement for the nation's sins. Yom Kippur, the most important day of the Jewish calendar, is the tenth and final day of ten days of repentance beginning with Rosh Hoshannah.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Day 34: Leviticus 13 - 15

You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean. (Leviticus 15:31)

This is, I'm afraid, another rather difficult reading pertaining to infectious skin diseases, mildew and... discharges. Let's bring it into the 21st century.

Some people I know are quarantined in their apartment because of viral pneumonia… complete with a sign on their door and everything. The health department hasn't yet gotten a handle on the infection and doesn't want it spread to the schools where the kids attend.

When's the last time you heard about meningitis spreading through a college dormitory? With all those kids living in close contact, that's one of the health scares of the 21st century… a fertile breeding ground for germs and illness.

Here we have the account of a million or more people traveling through the wilderness in close community (anything infecting one member could easily and quickly spread to the rest). Two things which scared any Ancient Near East people were leprosy and mildew. Infected people could not cohabit with healthy people, and infected homes could not be inhabited at all. So in a sense, once these two things got rooted in a group of people, they very effectively broke community. God's all about community.

What other infections could break their God-given community? The worship of false gods? Immorality? Gossip? Resenting those in leadership?

That was then; this is now.

What infections can break our worshiping community? Should we be any less careful in preventing their spread today?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Day 33: Leviticus 10 - 12

Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today? (Leviticus 10:19)

After the death of his sons Nadab and Abihu, Aaron and his two younger sons were forbidden to show their mourning. Later in the day, Moses found out that a sin offering had been completely consumed by the altar fire even though the priests were commanded to eat it. Aaron defended himself and his sons by reminding Moses that the sin offering (which was not to be completely burned up, but used as food by the priests) was followed by a burnt offering, which was required to be completely burned up upon the altar.

We don't know exactly why Aaron and his sons did not eat the sin offering, but it is probable that it had to do with the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. Even though they could not show their mourning by taking off work, or by tearing their clothes, they may have been too burdened to eat, or even have been fasting.

Having heard Aaron's explanation, Moses was satisfied that the digression was birthed out of sincere hearts, and not an offense against God.

Have you ever hurt so bad you didn't know how you could go on, but had to persevere anyway?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Day 32: Leviticus 7 - 9

If anyone who is unclean eats any meat of the fellowship offering . . . if anyone touches something unclean and then eats any meat of the fellowship offering . . . anyone who eats the fat of an animal . . . if anyone eats blood . . . that person must be cut off from his people. (Leviticus 7:20, 21, 25, 27)

Whenever I read this passage, I have to admit, the thought comes to me: God is so strict. I mean, being excommunicated for what basically amounts to not washing your hands?

But maybe the attitude problem isn't God's. Maybe it's mine. Could it be that I don't take seriously enough God's holiness and his desire for me to reflect that holiness?

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10)