Biblical Values

Money, Weights, and Measures


Mark 12:38-44, Lepton; kodrantes

Luke 15:1-10, Genesis 24:12-22, Drachma

Matthew 17:24-27, Didrachma; stater

Mark 12:1-17, Denarius, a Roman coin used in Palestine

John 12:1-8, Denarius. Some ointment was very expensive

Ezra 8:1-34, Daric (a Persian coin)

Exodus 13:1-15; Numbers 3:40-51, Gerah (defined only; 1/20 shekel; also a weight)

Genesis 13:8-10; 1 Kings 16:23-28, Kikar or Talent, from circle, so a region, a large metal round, or a loaf of bread

Matthew 18:23-35; Revelation 16:17-21, Is the NT talent money or a weight?

Ezekiel 45:9-17, 1 Kings 10:14-17, Maneh (60 shekels, also seems to be a weight)


Exodus 38:24-25; Leviticus 27:1-3, Shekel of the temple may be gold or silver

Joshua 7:10-26, Shekel

2 Samuel 14:11-26, Shekel, king's weight

2 Samuel 12:26-31, Kikar/Talent

John 19:25-42, Litra, about a pound or about 3/4 of a pound?

Liquid and Dry Measures

Leviticus 14:10-32, Log (apparently 1/12 hin, but how do they know?)

Exodus 30:22-38, Hin (apparently 1/6 bath, but how do they know?) Mark 6:13, Luke 7:46, Luke 10:34, James 5:14

Ezekiel 45:9-17, 1 Ephah = 1 Bath; 10 Ephahs = 1 Homer = 1 Cor; 60 shekels = 1 mina

1 Kings 5:1-12, Cor

Luke 16:1-8; John 2:1-11, Bath, Cor, Metretes (NT)

2 Kings 6:24-31, Cab (1/18 Ephah, but how do they know?)

Dry Measures

2 Kings 6:32-7:6, Seah (1/3 ephah, but how do they know?)

Exodus 16:11-36, Omer = 1/10 Ephah

Judges 6:11-24, Ephah

Hosea 2:16-3:5, Lethech

Lengths, Times, and Prices

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Silver Denarius of Tiberius Caesar.  Courtesy of the American Numismatic Society and Wikimedia.
Silver denarius of Tiberius Caesar, Roman emperor during the time of Christ.
Denarii varied from about 17-20 mm, or about 0.67-0.79 inch.
Courtesy of the American Numismatic Society and Wikimedia.

Mark 12:38-44, Lepton; kodrantes (01/02/23)

Introduction: Back in September, fellow reader Larry L. asked if I knew anything about the relative value of sheep and goats in biblical times. Now, I happen to know that a Lego sheep goes for about $6, and a Lego goat for about $60, but that doesn't seem to be very pertinent. So this study will take a look at biblical values - not love and faith, but rather money, weights, measures, times, and purchasing power - and try to get a feel for what they might amount to today.

In reading the Bible, we often come to statements like "Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah," which would be really useful if we knew what an ephah is. You'll find books and websites that give you exact modern equivalents, but they give different exact modern equivalents! This tells me that we don't actually know the exact equivalent, but at least it might give us an idea of whether the value in question is big or little. By the way, try to make a point of comparing the email scripture with your paper Bible, because the first thing I learned was that many of the values have several different English translations.

"The widow's mite" may be the most famous of all the coins in the Bible, and it's clear from context that it was worth very little. The lepton was the smallest coin in circulation. Two of them were worth a kodrantes, which was the Greek word for a small Roman coin called a quadrans. In modern U.S. terms, we might say the widow put in two pennies, worth less than a nickel. (By the way, you can still buy a genuine first-century lepton, but it would cost you a pretty penny.)

This coin is valuable because Jesus used it to teach his disciples, and us, that it isn't the absolute amount you put into the offering plate that's important, it's the relative amount. If you aren't sure where your next meal is coming from, like the widow, and you put a quarter in the plate, God will use it to do great things. On the other hand, if you're financially comfortable and you always put a dollar in the plate, it's time to think about making it a fiver.

Luke 15:1-10, Genesis 24:12-22, Drachma (01/03/23)

The Greek Old Testament uses drachma for the Hebrew beka, or half-shekel. Beka is only used here and in Exodus 38:26, where it is defined as half a shekel, which will be useful once we learn what a shekel is in a couple of weeks. (Spoiler alert: it appears to be a weight, not a coin.) In the NT, drachma is used three times, all of them in Luke 15:8-10. Now, apparently, we know from other sources that drachma is an ancient Greek silver coin, which is good because the text of Luke has neither "silver" nor "coin." (This is why translators have to go to school.) Even without the help of translators, though, we know that a beka/drachma/half shekel can't be too heavy, if Rebekah can wear twenty of them on her arm.

The two parables from Luke, as you know, form a triplet with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. They tell you and me to rejoice along with God and the angels whenever we see someone turn back to God.

Matthew 17:24-27, Didrachma; stater (01/04/23)

If the beka/drachma is a half shekel, then a didrachma should be a shekel, right? (Di- means two-. ) If the stater that Peter finds in the fish pays the tax for two people, that should be four drachmas or two shekels, correct? So why does the ESV have "shekel" for stater? This confused me. It turns out that this is the only NT use of stater. I compared a bunch of translations to see how else it might be rendered, and I found shekel, bit of money, piece of twenty pence, coin, stater, four-drachma coin (ha!), piece of money, and dollar. Then I looked up the stater on Wikipedia, and it turns out that there were various staters, depending on where and when they were minted. (One of them actually was worth four drachmas.) Given the uncertainty, "piece of money" or "coin" seems to me to be the best rendering, or just stater.

John Wesley says the didrachma was paid "to buy salt, and little things not otherwise provided for. It seems to have been a voluntary thing, which custom rather than any law had established." This would explain vs. 24, where the tax collectors ask whether Jesus pays it or not. Jesus makes two points. First, as the son of God he shouldn't be expected to pay for work in the house of God. Second, it isn't worth offending people over a small amount of money.

Mark 12:1-17, Denarius, a Roman coin used in Palestine (01/05/23)

The second most famous biblical coin is probably the denarius. This Roman coin started out with 95-98% silver and over the centuries was reduced in both size and purity. It was apparently reasonably consistent at any particular time, however, unlike the stater and drachma, whose weights and compositions depended on where they were minted. According to an unsourced statement in Wikipedia, it was worth roughly the same as a Greek drachma in the first century. For centuries it was half again the weight of a U.S. dime, but that doesn't tell us much about purchasing power, because even in our own lifetimes, the value of a dime has changed considerably. (Both dime and denarius are based on "ten," and they both are worth 10 small copper coins; isn't that interesting?)

So why do we care about the denarius? Because it had somebody's picture on it, unlike the Jewish shekel. Jesus is increasingly critical of the religious authorities, and things are getting desperate enough for them that the Pharisees and Herodians gang up on him to ask about Roman taxes. This would be a lot like the Republicans and Democrats sending a joint delegation to, say, Billy Graham to ask him a question about immigration policy. They figure that no matter what he says, he'll offend a lot of people. Jesus turns the question back on them. "Whose picture is on the coin?" he asks.

John 12:1-8, Denarius. Some ointment was very expensive (01/06/23)

Two different women anointed Jesus' feet with perfumed oil. One was the sinner who came into the house of a Pharisee with whom Jesus was dining (Luke 7:36-50. She had been forgiven much and therefore loved much. We don't know her name, and this incident was toward the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Mary of Bethany was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and she anointed Jesus' feet with perfumed oil in what seems to be her own home, while he was dining with Lazarus. This was six days before the crucifixion. Sometimes people mix these two ladies up.

Judas said that the ointment that Mary used was worth 300 denarii, and we'll see later that a denarius was a reasonable day's wage. Scripture does not say anything about the finances of Mary and her family, but they must have been doing okay. Also notice that John doesn't say that Judas was a traitor; he says he was a thief. His treason came several days later. All of the Gospel writers are scrupulous in telling us that until the last day, Judas was a full-fledged disciple along with them.

Ezra 8:1-34, Daric (a Persian coin) (01/09/23)

Ezra is detail oriented (that is, long-winded and a bit of a control freak), but overall his story of the return from the Exile is worth reading. I've summarized some of this chapter for you. After Cyrus the Persian defeated the Babylonians, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, and Cyrus sent back with them some of the temple vessels (Ezra 1) that had been looted during the capture of Jerusalem. Since Ezra's goal was to rebuild the temple and get it back into operation, the lack of temple workers, Levites, was a serious problem. He delays the return briefly while they find some Levites who are willing to come along.

Among the vessels were 20 gold bowls worth 1,000 darics. The daric was a Persian gold coin introduced by Cyrus after 546 BC, according to Wikipedia, so it's not surprising at all to read about this foreign coin here or in Nehemiah 7. The daric is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 29:7, however, where it talks about all the materials gathered by David for the initial building of the temple. That's an anachronism, since the daric hadn't been invented yet, but it's an understandable anachronism, because the rabbis traditionally attribute the writing of Chronicles to Ezra.

Exodus 13:1-15; Numbers 3:40-51, Gerah (defined only; 1/20 shekel; also a weight) (01/10/23)

Have you ever asked, "Why are you telling me this?" That's how I feel about the gerah. It's defined five times in the Old Testament, but it's never used for anything.

So what's the deal about the Levites? You remember the last plague in Egypt. Any household that didn't have the blood of a lamb swabbed onto the door jamb lost the firstborn children and firstborn livestock that night (Exodus 12). After that, the LORD tells Moses, reasonably enough, that all the firstborn belong to God (Exodus 13:2). There are rules about whether to sacrifice or redeem the animals, but firstborn children - who cannot be sacrificed! - must be redeemed.

Apparently, that system was too complicated to keep track of or something, because God decides later to take the whole tribe of Levi and all their livestock instead the firstborn from all the tribes. There were 273 firstborns left over from the other tribes, and they had to be redeemed at 5 shekels per head (the shekel is twenty gerahs ). The Levites who descended from Aaron were priests, and the rest of the Levites had assorted specialized jobs in the tent of the tabernacle and later in the temple.

Genesis 13:8-10; 1 Kings 16:23-28, Kikar or Talent, from circle, so a region, a large metal round, or a loaf of bread (01/11/23)

Omri was one of several assassins who took over the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel; you can read all about it in 1 Kings 16:15-22.

If I tell you that last night I heard a cat playing some really hot jazz, you know that I'm talking about a human being. If I tell you that last night I heard a cat yowling outside my window, you know that I'm talking about a small domestic feline. Context tells you which cat is which. The same is true of the Hebrew kikar, which is basically a circle - a roundish area of land, a round loaf of bread, or a large round piece of metal.

Starting all the way back in 300 BC, when the rabbis first translated the Hebrew OT into Greek, these three meanings have been given three different words. Only when the kikar in question had something to do with lead, iron, brass, silver, or gold did the rabbis translate it into talanton. Unless I missed one, it's always "talents of gold/silver/brass/iron/lead," and not just "talents," in the Old Testament. The OT kikar/talanton appears to be a weight. Exactly how much it weighed varied from here to there and now and then, but it seems to have been in the neighborhood of 60 pounds.

Matthew 18:23-35; Revelation 16:17-21, Is the NT talent money or a weight? (01/12/23)

By the time we get to the New Testament, the talent sounds more like money (which is how I have always thought of it) in the parables of Jesus (Matthew 18 and Matthew 25). Apparently, it was still a weight. One source cited on Wikipedia said the NT talent weighed about 130 pounds, which I think would rule out a single coin. In Revelation, the hailstones weigh about a talent.

In the Parable of the Wicked Servant, the servant owes the master 10,000 talents - a vast sum, no matter whether we think it's money or weight* - and his master forgives him. His fellow servant owes him a hundred denarii, a trivial amount by comparison. In the same way, we owe God a vast amount for the sins we've committed, and God forgives us. In comparison to our sins against God, our fellow human beings' sins against us are trivial.

* The only way I can think of that he could owe this much was that he embezzled it and transferred the funds to a bank account in Gaul, because it's much more than a lifetime's earnings. Jesus' parables were often over the top, which made them memorable and even funny.

Ezekiel 45:9-17, 1 Kings 10:14-17, Maneh (60 shekels, also seems to be a weight) (01/13/23)

It stands to reason that nomadic people would be hard-pressed to have coinage. Where would the mint be located? Even nomads, though, could have a balance and a set of weights. Shekels and talents turn out to be weights, and when they are weights of gold or silver, they can be used as a form of money. I never had thought about this until now; I just always assumed they were coins. Here's another definition of the gerah as 1/20 shekel, and we now have the maneh/mina, which is 60 shekels. I'm getting the idea that the shekel is the basic measurement of wieght, but I could be wrong. We'll see next week. We'll also learn later about the ephah, the bath, and the homer.

What's interesting to me in today's reading is that God makes a connection between executing justice and righteousness and having correct weights and measures. If a clerk gives me too much change, I need to give it back.

Exodus 38:24-25; Leviticus 27:1-3, Shekel of the temple may be gold or silver (01/16/23)

Sometimes during a study I realize that I arranged parts of it in the wrong order, and this week is a great example. The shekel is the item that has always looked to me most like a piece of money - maybe because it's routinely used to pay taxes and debts - but it actually turns out to be a weight. I tell you to read in context, and I'm sure you do, but sometimes that context goes beyond the scripture per se to include the explanatory footnotes in your Bible or even extra-biblical sources of information. If we had learned first that the shekel started out as a weight and that a certain weight of metal could be used as currency, and then later the shekel became a coin, it would have been clearer. Maybe.

Even Old Testament shekels varied. There seems to have been an ordinary shekel, a sanctuary shekel, and possibly a king's shekel. They seem to weighed between 7 and 17 grams, depending on the time and which kind of shekel. (A U.S. half dollar weighs 11.34 grams.) Pay attention to all these "seems," because it also seems like every source I looked at has a different value.)

The valuation of the various sexes and ages of people in Leviticus seems to be related to how much work you could get out of them, and not to their intrinsic worth as persons. An adult man (50 shekels) can normally do more physical labor than an adult woman (30 shekels), who in turn can do more physical labor than a boy (20) or an old man (15). John Wesley says that sometimes people would want to make a special vow - say, dedicating themselves or their children to the service of God - but there might be more of them than could be put to work in or supported by the sanctuary. They would be allowed to exchange money for service.

Joshua 7:10-26, Shekel (01/17/23)

You know that Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumblin' down. Did you know that right after that, Joshua sent troops to Ai, and that battle didn't go nearly so well? Joshua's troops broke and ran before the men of Ai, 36 Israelites were killed, and Ai was not taken. What a disaster! What could have caused it? Remember that everything in Jericho was devoted to destruction. One man, however, decided that the LORD would never miss one little cloak, 200 shekels of silver, and 50 shekels of gold.

Joshua 7:1 tells us that "the people of Israel" broke faith, because "Achan... took some of the devoted things." The idea of corporate punishment for the sinful actions of one person is strong in the earlier portions of the Old Testament, questioned by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 18), and difficult to find in the New Testament. Nevertheless, it's pretty clear from everyday experience that the sinful actions of one person can have terrible and wide-spread repercussions for the entire community, so don't do it. Instead, love God and love your neighbor; that will have wonderful and wide-spread repercussions.

After Achan's execution, the Israelites went back to Ai and defeated it. Jericho and Ai were the first two towns to be taken by the Israelites after they entered the Promised Land.

2 Samuel 14:11-26, Shekel, king's weight (01/18/23)

David's first son was Amnon, and his third son was Absalom (2 Samuel 3:2-3). They were half-brothers. Absalom had a full sister, Tamar. Amnon raped Tamar and then refused to marry her (2 Samuel 13:11-17), and Absalom hated Amnon for this. He murdered him a couple of years later (1 Samuel 13:22-33) and took off. Eventually David stopped grieving for Amnon and started missing Absalom (2 Samuel 13:39). Joab, David's advisor and military commander, found an old woman and got her to spin David a story, supposedly about her own sons, one of whom killed the other and was about to die for it, leaving her alone in the world (2 Samuel 14:1-10). When David promises her that the living son will not be harmed, she says, "Then why are you still banishing Absalom?" David lets Absalom return, somewhat against his own better judgment (14:24). As it turned out, he should have stuck with his better judgment, because in addition to having a lot of hair (14:25), Absalom had a lot of charisma and ambition, and he was nothing but trouble for David from this time forward.

If a shekel weighs roughly 11 grams, then 200 shekels is about 2200 grams, or almost five pounds.

2 Samuel 12:26-31, Kikar/Talent (01/19/23)

Today we read a clear example of why we're confused about weights vs. money. We learned earlier that a talent weighed about 60 pounds, which seems to be too great a weight for a crown. John Wesley comments on vs. 30:
The weight - or rather, the price whereof. For the same words both in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, are used, to signify either weight, or price. And the addition of precious stones, which are never valued by the weight of gold, makes this signification most probable. Moreover, the weight might seem too great either for the king of Ammon, or for David to wear it upon his head.
Even at today's high price of gold, precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, and emeralds cost more.

One thing you have to say for Joab is that in his own bloodthirsty way he was always loyal to David. Even though Joab had essentially conquered the city of Rabbah, he sent a message to David to come on over and take the city officially. Joab was willing to take the risk, and David was willing to take the credit.

John 19:25-42, Litra, about a pound or about 3/4 of a pound? (01/20/23)

A litra was a small, ancient Greek silver coin; or it was a weight equal to one/third of a Roman libra, about 4 ounces; or it was a Talmudic weight equivalent to 60 shekels, about 12 ounces. Those weights are from the same article in Wikipedia. Or maybe it was about a pound, which is the weight given in Strong's Greek Dictionary. Thus Nicodemus brought 25 lbs., or 75 pounds, or 100 pounds of spices for Jesus' burial, depending on which number we use. No wonder we are confused.

Does it even matter? Well, yes, because it shows us how devoted Nicodemus was to Jesus. I checked the Internet, where you can buy anything. Myrrh gum sells wholesale for about $30/pound. I also found one source for aloe vera gum, and if I did the conversion correctly, it's about $10/pound. Taking the most likely weight of 75 pounds, Nicodemus brought spices worth between $750 (mostly aloe) and $2250 (mostly myrrh).

Leviticus 14:10-32, Log (apparently 1/12 hin, but how do they know?) (01/23/23)

A log is 1/12 of a hin, although this definition is not in the Bible; it comes from the Talmud and the Mishnah, two ancient Jewish works of religion, law, and commentary. A log appears to be in the neighborhood of a pint - I found various sources that put it at six egg-shells full, 0.33 quarts, 0.31 liters, 0.3 liters, 0.67 pints, half a pint, a quart, and half a liter. The point is this: nobody knows exactly, so (a) you should be really suspicious of exact conversions, and (b) you shouldn't argue about it. Personally, I like "six egg shells," because it's the kind of measurement that you could actually do in the desert, and because eggs vary in size.

Priests were in charge of worship, of course, but they were also in charge of public health. Someone with a skin disease was a threat to public health, and even worse, was unclean, that is, unable to participate in worship. Once the priest decided that the disease was no longer active, the procedure for being cleansed took place over the course of eight days. It required various sacrifices, anointings, and rituals. The sacrifices required depended on the relative wealth or poverty of the unclean person, but either way, one part of the procedure required a log of oil.

Exodus 30:22-38, Hin (apparently 1/6 bath, but how do they know?) Mark 6:13, Luke 7:46, Luke 10:34, James 5:14 (01/24/23)

Thanks! I recently read an interview with Harrison Ford. In commenting on his fans, he said, "I'm so grateful for the life they've given me, the opportunities they've given me. And I work for them. I really, I really feel that way. They support my, um, my Jones, you know, like, my habit." His habit is "telling stories," and mine is telling Bible stories. Thank you, dear reader, for supporting my habit!

The hin is another Old Testament measurement that isn't defined anywhere in the Bible, but the Mishnah says it's 12 logs. You remember from yesterday that we don't know exactly how much a log is, either, but it's probably a half pint to a pint. At a half pint to the log, a hin would be 3/4 of a gallon, and at one pint to the log, a hin would be a gallon and a half.

The holy anointing oil of the OT is compounded of 1 hin olive oil, 500 shekels myrrh, 250 shekels cinnamon, 250 shekels aromatic cane, and 500 shekels cassia, all according to the shekel of the sanctuary. You are forbidden to make it or use it, however, unless you are descended from Aaron. The anointing oil of the New Testament is olive oil. It appears that anyone can anoint with it, since we see used by the disciples, the good Samaritan, and church elders, and we see Jesus' host gently reprimanded for not offering it.

By the way, according to Hunter's Theorem, "Everything is related to everything." I wrote the study tip above in response to a question from a non-reader friend who called just a few days ago to ask for the recipe for anointing oil. I was going to send it out last Saturday as a supplement to our study of measurements. At the last minute I decided to check whether I had planned to use the Exodus passage, and sure enough, it was scheduled for today.

Ezekiel 45:9-17, 1 Ephah = 1 Bath; 10 Ephahs = 1 Homer = 1 Cor; 60 shekels = 1 mina (01/25/23)

As near as I can tell, we don't actually know the volumes of the ephah, bath, and homer. According to Herbert G. Mays (Vol. 6 of the Interpreter's Bible), an archaeological find suggests that the bath was about 5 3/4 gallons or 22 liters. That would make the homer and cor roughly the size of a 55-gallon drum.

When I hear about "justice" and "righteousness," I tend to hear them in the voice of James Earl Jones - big, important concepts that are probably somewhat beyond what I am able to attain. In fact, God is just as concerned about righteousness in small things: don't put your thumb on the scales; make sure your quart jar holds 32 ounces; and fill your measuring cup all the way to the line.

1 Kings 5:1-12, Cor (01/26/23)

When my younger grandson was a very small child, he explained to me after making a birthday cake in the sandbox, "I made the wet ingwedients and the dwy ingwedients." You can see from vs. 11 that a cor can be used to measure both wet and dry ingredients. We learned yesterday that a cor appears from Ezekiel 45:14 to be equivalent in volume to a homer, which is ten baths, or about 57 gallons.

King Solomon and King Hiram negotiated a trade agreement in which Solomon exchanged wheat and olive oil for cedar logs. You know those big 40-foot containers that they put on trains? They hold up to 88 55-gallon drums. Shipping 20,000 cors would require more than 225 40-foot containers for the wheat and another 225+ for the oil. The transport of wheat and oil to Hiram of Tyre was a major operation.

Luke 16:1-8; John 2:1-11, Bath, Cor, Metretes (NT) (01/27/23)

Batos and koros of the New Testament are the Greek word for the Old Testament bath and cor that we saw earlier in the week. The dishonest steward is cheating his master out of roughly fifty 55-gallon drums of oil and twenty drums of wheat, a sizable sum. Britannica says that the metretes was "equivalent to 39.4 litres, or about 9 [Imperial] gallons"; it's about 10.4 U.S. gallons. Either way, "two or three metretes" is clearly an approximation that comes out to twenty or thirty gallons. It does show that we shouldn't be too dogmatic about these ancient weights and measures.

Notice that Jesus supplies more wine for the feast without drawing attention to himself, just as he directs us in Matthew 6:3-4. Jesus supplemented the feast by about 60 gallons of wine, but wedding feasts were big events that went on for days.

2 Kings 6:24-31, Cab (1/18 Ephah, but how do they know?) (01/30/23)

The cab or kab is never defined in the Bible, and in fact it's only used once, in 2 Kings 6:25. As near as I can tell, the definition comes from the Mishnah (an ancient Jewish text), where it is said to be the volume of 24 eggs, in turn defined by several modern sources as roughly a quart.* A quarter of a kab, about a cup, of dove's dung is selling for 5 silver shekels, an exorbitant price. Wesley says that "dove's dung" is probably "a sort of pease, ... for this was a food much in use amongst the poorer Israelites, and was a very coarse food, and therefore fit to be joined with the asses head."

The kingdom of Israel had been having trouble with Syria for some time, and the prophet Elisha had been helpful in saving the king from capture or death more than once. Sometime later, the king of Syria besieged the capital of Israel, Samaria. Now the situation is so dire that the people are resorting to eating unclean animals like the donkey and even to cannibalism. Naturally, the king of Israel blames Elisha. Politics as usual.

* Depending pretty heavily on the bird that laid the eggs, it seems to me.

2 Kings 6:32-7:6, Seah (1/3 ephah, but how do they know?) (01/31/23)

The seah is another measurement that's not defined in the Bible. Apparently, the Mishna says it's the volume of 144 eggs, and thus six kabs. We decided yesterday that a kab is about a quart, so a seah must be about a gallon and a half, or nine quarts, according to some websites. (The size of eggs varies, and so do websites.)

One of my sons used to have a tee shirt that said "Eat right, Exercise, Die Anyway." The city of Samaria was besieged and starving; people were paying 80 shekels for a donkey's head and 5 shekels for a quarter of a kab of pease to make gruel. When the king sends some of his people to kill Elisha, Elisha sends back the message that tomorrow there would be plenty to eat.

Meantime, some lepers at the city gate decided that they could go inside and starve to death, or stay where they were and starve to death, or go over to the Syrian camp, where they might die anyway, but... maybe not. They probably were wearing a Hebrew version of the tee shirt. When they found the camp empty, they first had a good meal (it's important to have your priorities straight) and then let the folks in the city know that there was food to be had. No one was eating donkeys or pease now, and prices dropped precipitously: a seah, six kabs, of flour was only a shekel, and two seahs of barley was also only a shekel. The doubtful captain of vs. 2 was trampled to death in the rush of the people of Samaria out the gate to the Syrian camp.

Exodus 16:11-36, Omer = 1/10 Ephah (02/01/23)

Telling me that an omer is the tenth part of an ephah would be much more useful if I had any idea what an ephah is. We read last week in 1 Kings 5 that it's the same as a bath, which we decided is likely to be about 5 3/4 gallons. So an omer must be about 2.3 U.S. quarts.

The children of Israel did almost nothing but complain while they were in the desert, and the current complaint is that they have nothing to eat. The LORD sends bread from heaven, and in vs. 15, the people ask "mawn/What is it?" A much better translation of vs. 31 would be, "They called it mawn/whatsit. " Once they tried it, they liked it. Let's remember that the next time the LORD sends us something new.

Judges 6:11-24, Ephah (02/02/23)

I knew this was going to happen. Didn't we just decide that an ephah was about 5 3/4 gallons? It made no sense to me that you would whip up 5 3/4 gallons of flour into unleavened cakes (think "tortillas" or "matza") to serve one guest. So I went back to the Internet and found another definition of ephah, from the American Heritage dictionary, which says it's 35 liters or about a bushel, which is 9.25 gallons. The God's Word translation has 18 quarts, which is 4.5 gallons. Other sites have 22 liters and 36.44 liters. Hahaha! Obviously, nobody actually knows, but somebody gives you a conversion "accurate" to 0.01 liter, which is about 2 teaspoons. Don't believe everything you read, especially on the Internet. Anyway, it's way too much for one guest. I have no doubt that John Wesley is correct in saying this means, "The choicest part of a whole ephah; ... for a whole ephah, and a whole kid had been superfluous, and improper to provide for one man."

After the children of Israel came into the promised land, but before they had a king, each tribe sort went its own way, and sometimes that way was to worship the native gods. The LORD took a pretty dim view of this practice and allowed them to get into trouble until they remembered that God is God and gods are not. At that point God would raise up a judge, who was normally a charismatic military leader. Gideon is not feeling very charismatic or military, but after a long conversation with the LORD, he comes around and leads a small troop of men to defeat the Midianites.

Hosea 2:16-3:5, Lethech (02/03/23)

We read last week in Ezekiel that a homer is ten ephahs, and I think we've concluded that an ephah is roughly the size of a bushel basket (always allowing that the size of a bushel basket is more standardized than estimates of the size of an ephah.) The lethech appears only once in the Bible, where - surprise! - it isn't defined. The King James Version says it is half a homer, but that appears to be a guess. The Talmud says it's "the standard quantity for produce that is heaped together," which I'm certain meant a lot to the rabbis who wrote it. So, probably more than an ephah and less than a homer, and I supposed we might as well go with half a homer.

Here's an important thing to know about the books of the prophets: they aren't written down in any particular order. Chapter 3 of Hosea provides the backstory for Hosea's prophetic message, and Ch. 2:16-23 summarizes his message. Hosea is a love letter to God's adulterous people. The children of Hosea's wife Gomer may or may not be his, and they are accordingly named No-Mercy and Not-My-People. Gomer runs away and is on the block at the slave auction, and Hosea buys her back, paying 15 silver shekels plus a homer and a lethech of barley. Even if we allow some for inflation, this was top dollar, because we read that the Temple valuation of a female age 20 to 60 is 30 shekels (Leviticus 27:4) and a homer of barley was valued at 50 shekels .

Hosea thinks, "Wait a minute. If I am willing to pay this much to take back my adulterous wife, how much more is God willing to take back his adulterous people?" God says, "How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?... My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath" (Hosea 11:8). Most of the rest of the book is, "Israel, you are great sinners, and you need to clean up your act and return to God, whose heart you are breaking."

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