Numbers 17:27 – 18:19, Function of the Priesthood (12/2/11)
After what happened to Korah and his followers, the children of Israel were justifiably concerned about even approaching the tabernacle. You don’t want to find out experimentally that, say, getting 10 feet from the fence is punishable by death. God said that Aaron and his family could enter the holy place and approach the altar safely to make offerings on behalf of the people; the flip side is that Aaron and his family were made responsible for everything that went wrong.
The idea that privilege and responsibility are two sides of the same coin is found in other places in the Bible as well. James 3:1, for example, says that not everyone should become teachers, knowing that teachers will be judged more strictly. This is one reason I always tell you to read the Bible for yourself and not take my word for anything.
Numbers 18:20-32, Income of the Levites (12/5/11)
This morning when Pastor Craig was making the announcements, he said he was going to “start with the important spiritual issues: food.” He was joking, and we all laughed. But as it turns out, food is an important spiritual issue!
God took the Levites for his own and said they were not to get a share of the land when the Promised Land was divided among the children of Israel. Well, how are you going to feed your kids in an agrarian society when you don’t have any land? Aha! Now we come to the spiritual issue. The children of Israel made offerings for various reasons – some were required, some were to expiate sins, some were to fulfill vows, and some were just because they felt like making an offering. The vast majority of these offerings were agricultural produce: the very best from the giver’s live animals, grain, fruit, wine, oil, etc., was offered to God. A portion of some of these offerings was reserved for the priests and Levites and their families.
Numbers 19:1-22, Clean and Unclean (12/6/11)
You may remember from our study of Leviticus
that the laws of clean and unclean are extensive and complicated. This little section of Numbers presents a few specialized cases of clean and unclean; in particular, it talks about the red heifer, whose ashes were effective in removing some types of uncleanness.
A review of the basic rules of clean and unclean:
Numbers 20:1-13, The people whine & complain; Moses & Aaron get in trouble. (12/7/11)
- Clean/unclean has to do with ritual acceptability, not with dirt; only clean things are ritually acceptable.
- Not all clean things are holy; only clean things may be holy.
- Some things are unclean all the time; some things (including people) may be clean or unclean.
- Unclean is catching; clean is not.
Admittedly I do my share of whining and complaining, but I could learn a lot about the subject from the children of Israel. Back in Numbers 13, they refused to go into the Promised Land, which was described to them as a fruitful land, flowing with milk and honey, that produced bunches of grapes so big they had to be carried on a pole between two men. Now that they’re back in the desert, they have the gall to blame Moses for bringing them to a wasteland! Moses is understandably a little irritable about the whole thing, and instead of speaking to the rock, he whacks it a couple of times with a stick. Because of this incident, God forbids Moses and Aaron from entering the Promised Land.
Now, there is a fair amount of debate among scholars about exactly why Moses and Aaron got into trouble. Was it because they smacked the rock instead of speaking to it, as instructed in vs. 8? Was it because, as John Wesley suggests in his comment on vs. 12, that they doubted God’s power to bring forth water? In Deuteronomy 1:37, Moses said it was the people’s fault, and not his own, that God was mad at him. Other commentaries admit they don’t know for sure what the sin was. In the for-what-it’s-worth department, I’ve always thought the answer is in vs. 10: “Must we bring forth water out of this rock?” It takes a great deal of chutzpah to take personal credit for God’s miracles. Admittedly I do my share of that, too.
Reader Comment: I also have a theory. It’s because they didn't listen carefully. What God said: Speak to the rock. What they heard: Get water from the rock. And since the first time they had gotten water from a rock it was by whacking, they took the “this is how we've always done it” approach. Lesson – when God gives you a new way to do an old thing, listen and heed.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 46: Numbers 20:1-13, Moses Striking Water from the Rock, Jacob Jordaens (oil on oak) (8/3/15)
Numbers 20:14-29, Israel goes around Edom, not through; Aaron dies. (12/8/11)
Just as we have our favorite Bible passages, artists seem to have theirs. For each painting that I’m sending you, I spent some time confirming that the names of the painting and artist are correct in the Gamble Bible. A few of them were incorrect, and those took me a while to figure out. One source of confusion is that an artist may have created two (or more) slightly different works on the same topic. Jacob Jordaens may have done this image as a study for a larger, more comprehensive piece that he also did on the same topic, which you can find on the web under the same name.
But what strikes me about this one is the awe on the face of the man on the right. He is just dumbfounded that Moses and Aaron can get water from a rock. Of course, it wasn’t Moses and Aaron, it was God, and they got in trouble for taking the credit. It’s okay to take credit for what you accomplish, but think about how much of what you accomplish is God working through you.
"Moses Striking Water from the Rock" by Jacob Jordaens, from the Gamble family Bible, now in the private collection of Regina Hunter. Photography by Daryl Lee.
For the locations of Kadesh, Edom, and Mt. Hor, see the map of the wanderings
. They’re all on the right, between 30 and 31 degrees.
A year or so ago we had a question about Edomites as opposed to Canaanites
. The bottom line is that the Edomites were descended from Esau, elder brother of Jacob/Israel. Although they were not part of the covenant people, God had no intention of displacing them from their land in order to give it to the children of Israel. When the Edomites said the children of Israel had to go around, they had to go around, as shown on the map.
Numbers 21:1-20, The people whine & complain; later they sing. (12/9/11)
Yesterday we saw that the children of Israel got close to the Promised Land but had to go south again to go around Edom. The map of the wandering
shows that they had to go all the way south to the Gulf of Akabah, an extension of the Red Sea (vs. 4). Then they swung over to the east of Edom, passed through a bunch of little places that aren’t on our map, and eventually ended up on the east side of Moab (vss. 10-20).
Do you remember “Cool Water,”
as sung by the Sons of the Pioneers? Vss. 17-18 are an earlier song on the same topic.
Stops on the Journey
Iye-abarim is in the waste land before Moab looking east.||
Valley of Zered||
Valley of Zered||
Other side of the Arnon||
Arnon, which is on the waste land at the edge of the land of the Amorites; for the Arnon is the line of division between Moab and the Amorites: As it says in the book of the Wars of the Lord, Vaheb in Suphah, and the valley of the Amon; The slope of the valleys going down to the tents of Ar and touching the edge of Moab. ||
Other side of the Arnon||
Beer, the water-spring of which the Lord said to Moses, Make the people come together and I will give them water.|
17 Then Israel gave voice to this song: Come up, O water-spring, let us make a song to it:
18a The fountain made by the chiefs, made deep by the great ones of the people, with the law-givers' rod, and with their sticks.
Stops on the Journey
More Adventures with Moses in the Wilderness
and to the top of Pisgah looking over Jeshimon.|
Census and Organization
The Order of March
Failure to Enter Canaan
Laws and Consequences
Complaints in the Desert
Balaam and Barak
Almost Ready to Leave
Getting Close to Canaan
Home at Last!
Copyright 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
The illustration of the people complaining to Moses in the desert is from the Binns family Bible, now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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