Deuteronomy (Moses)

Deuteronomy is all about the remembrance. It's the 5th book in the Pentateuch, and a rather lovely synopsis of the history of the Israelites and of God's instructions for their new nation. Moses summoned the people, and reminded them all about how the Lord had done for them. He reminded them of the rules for the clean and unclean meats. He reminded them of how God provided for them in the desert. He reminded them of how they were to make sacrifices. He reminded them over and over and over how important it was to care for the immigrants, orphans, and widows.

In every single community, there are immigrants and orphans and widows. Just as in the day that Moses authored the book of Deuteronomy, the immigrants and orphans and widows are still the most fragile, vulnerable people in our midst. The Bible is very clear: it is our responsibility to care for those who need it, in whatever way we can, which includes the immigrants and orphans and widows.

Numbers (Moses)

The book of Numbers kicks off about a year after the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian bondage, about a year after the Lord sent the people the 10 Commandments (which formed them into a nation).

The next step for the nation of Israel was to form their military. The Lord decreed that a census be taken, in order to discover the number of men available for military service in each of the 12 tribes. At this time they were also given their assigned places in the camp setup. Every time the cloud or fire of the Lord that hovered over the tabernacle indicated that it was time to stop, the tribes were to form a rectangular shape, with the tabernacle in the center. And actually, there were 13 tribes, but the tribe of Levi had been set aside as the priesthood. The Levites were in charge of the tabernacle; all the tedious setting-up and taking-down of the place with every change of campsite. They were in charge of making offerings, and had a gajillion specific things to do to properly prepare. There were tens of thousands of Levites, and all the guys were numbered off to take their turn in the tabernacle. Being born as a Levite meant lifetime of preparing for entering the presence of the Lord. To do so in that time without proper preparation would result in immediate death, so it was a rather hazardous career.

One especially interesting chapter was Numbers 5, which is subtitled in my Bible as the "Adultery Test." It was decreed that if a "spirit of jealousy" were to come over a man regarding whether his wife might have committed adultery, he could take her to the priest for the adultery test. The woman would have to stand before the presence of the Lord with her hair let down and holding a grain offering, and the priest would have the woman swear an oath. If she had not committed adultery, she would be free to conceive children. If she was guilty, she would be cursed with a swollen abdomen and her thigh would waste away. I'm still reading and re-reading this chapter to try and sort it out. I have questions. One is, why single out the women? Dudes were much more likely to have relations with another woman/wife than women were to go looking for a man to cheat with. Another question is, um, wouldn't a pregnant belly look like a "swollen abdomen?" Say the wife was innocent and resumed her life, only when she conceived and her womb began to grow, how were people to know whether she was living the curse of the swollen belly or simply with child? I can't imagine that they would go peeking around under the girls' dresses, checking for that whole wasted thigh thing. Or who knows...maybe they did. This perplexes me.  And it certainly seems to me like such a provision in the culture would give rise to paranoid husbands.

Another Numbers chapter that sparked questions within me was Numbers 12. Miriam and Aaron were super duper important to Moses. However, apparently they had let their importance to him go to their heads because suddenly they were criticizing his choice of a wife and became greedy for the power he had. They grumbled and whined and complained, and even argued with Moses to his face. They made a critical mistake, and certainly deserved punishment. Numbers 12:9-15 tells us that the anger of the Lord burned against them, and "their" punishment was that Miriam was stricken with leprosy and shut outside the camp for 7 days. Uh, what about Aaron? I haven't been able to find what his punishment was, though it's possible that I've missed it.

Also as part of their first anniversary of their exodus from Egypt, the people observed the Passover. Instructions were given for this, as well as descriptions of the various types of offerings to be given and their purposes.

Enter Caleb. He was a good chap, and one of the only 2 who left Egypt as an adult who would actually enter the promised land. Caleb was part of the group of spies sent on a recon mission in Israel's first approach to the land that God had promised them, and one of the only team members who didn't return with exaggerative statements about how gigantic the people were and how they were like grasshoppers in comparison.

And oh my word, these Israelites were some whiney hineys in Numbers. They whined about the food (apparently their miracle manna was sub-par to their spoiled little taste buds), about Moses's leadership, about not having any meat, about the land, etc. They even try to stone old Moses before this book is up! God got a wee bit angry with them, and threatened to "smite them with pestilence," and Moses pleaded on their behalf. God spared them, but decrees that the whiney hineys shall not be entering the promised land. Which meant the nation of Israel then had to wander around for about 40 years, until the generation of losers died off. Gracious, this challenged me so much! I do not want to be the stumbling block that prevents my children from receiving blessings from the Lord.

Chapter 15 goes into great length about the laws for atoning for unintentional sin. This was a good reminder for me that the Bible is clear: even unintentional sin is still sin. Chapter 16 is wildly dramatic, when another dumb gang of rebel leaders starts verbally condemning the leadership of Moses, and they come to a strange demise when the ground opens up and swallows them whole.

And it is in chapter 20 that Moses makes a critical error. God was using him in yet another miracle, which of course had become routine for Moses. Only Moses made the mistake of stating that "we bring forth water for you out of this rock." Oooh, Moses. It makes me cringe. The Lord's response was something like, "Uh, excuse Me?! NO PROMISED LAND FOR YOU!"

A note I had previously written in my Bible beside this passage was "May we never attempt to share in God's glory." For Moses, this cost him his entrance to the promised land. For us, this is costly as well. I can't imagine how much Moses would have grieved this punishment. But if he was half the man I think he was, he would have understood the justice of it.

The end of Numbers is filled with brief but important milestones for Israel. There's this dude named Balaam who had a rather interesting encounter with a talking donkey. The army that assembled at the beginning of this book eventually began to take action going about the physical conquering of the promised land. There was a second census, which proved that the generation of whiney hineys were gone. Joshua was named as Moses's successor as leader of the Israelites. Inheritance guidelines were set in place.

The nation of Israel was beginning to prepare for their promised land.

Leviticus (Moses)

The third book in the Bible deals with the holiness of God. In my Bible there is a footnote that I found quite interesting. In this book alone, the term "holiness" is mentioned 152 times, significantly more than in any other book of the Bible. In a word cloud of Leviticus, "holiness" would likely be one of the largest words visible. Interesting. And rather humbling. I could not be less worthy of reading a book from God's Word specifically written about holiness. Yet, here we are. This is grace.

The book is divided into two main sections: the people's worship of a holy God through sacrifices and celebration, and directions for living a holy life. Leviticus shows His very specific instructions for the priests (from the tribe of Levi), as well as guidelines for the nation of Israel. The type of sacrifices and manner in which they were to be presented, the feasts and times of worship for the people to set apart from their normal routine, and precepts for the preservation of the health of people in the community are listed in painstaking detail. The people knew without question what the Lord expected of them and their society as a whole. I like that. There is safety in clearly-communicated expectations. And there is the gracious provision of atonement through burnt, grain, wave, etc. offerings when those clearly-communicated expectations are broken.

In the first several chapters, the people are presented with directions for preparing their offerings and sacrifices to the Lord. When worshiping the one true holy God, the people had to provide a sacrifice on behalf of their breaking of the law of that time. He permitted them to lay their hands on the animal and transfer their sin to the animal in order for them to retain favor with God. There are explicit admonishments against idol worship, especially offering human sacrifices to such idols; they were strictly forbidden.

Near the middle of this book, Aaron and his sons are set aside and consecrated as the priests of Israel. There is a very fancy ceremony, with oil and anointing and all that jazz. As I read about all the specific things that Aaron and his sons had to do in order to prepare the altar for offerings, I noted that it must have taken them HOURS to prepare. Their whole life was wrapped up in preparing the altar.

In chapter 11, the Lord gives the people boundaries for the consumption of animals as food. I found this extremely interesting, because the hubs and I have done a lot of research lately about the most healthful and wholesome foods, and much of what we have discovered was right here all along in Leviticus.

Check this out:
-11:3-DO eat animals whose hooves are completely divided and chews cud (this has to do with the type of digestive system the animal has-the whole chewing the cud deal is really the animal's filtration system-examples: buffalo, cow, goat, sheep/lamb, moose, deer, giraffe)
-11:4-DO NOT eat of animals whose hooves are divided and/or does not chew cud (camel, pig, rabbit, shaphan/hyrax, etc.)
-11:9-DO eat anything in the water that has fins and scales (fish)
-11:12-DO NOT eat anything in the water without fins and scales (again, these are the animals on the lowest levels of life in the sea and have very poor filtration systems; examples: shrimp, lobster, catfish, crabs, oysters)
-11:13-19-DO NOT eat these birds: eagle, vulture, buzzard, kite/raptor, falcon, raven, ostrich, owl, hawk, sea gull, pelican, stork, heron, bat, hoopoe (OK, so that means we get a pass on chicken)
-11:20-DO eat these insects: locust, cricket, grasshopper (all other are "detestable")
-11:27-DO NOT eat an animal that walks on its paws (cat, dog, etc.)
-11:29-30-DO NOT eat things that swarm on the earth (mouse, mole, snake, gecko, crocodile, chameleon, "great lizard"-dinosaur? Komodo dragon? etc.)

It's definitely very thought-provoking.

Continuing on, there are guidelines for cleanliness as related to childbirth, leprosy and other diseases, and the cleansing of germies. All of this was for the protection of the people.

Many times I noticed (and underlined) that all throughout Leviticus, as soon as the Lord issued a guideline for a certain category, He always included provisions for the poor...for them to offer what they can afford, for their sacrifice to be acceptable, etc. This is a noteworthy observation because it indicates yet again God's heart for the impoverished. It challenges me not to overlook the poor and ways to help them.

In chapter 18, I chuckled a bit because there are several verses that deal with not viewing so-and-so in his or her nakedness. Seems like one blanket verse could have worked, but I suppose there is a reason for the specificity. But seriously. Apparently they must have been having a lot of trouble with nakedness and peepers, and that sort of just makes me laugh when I imagine it!

Leviticus is wrapped up with the instructions for parties, celebrations, and festivals to be conducted as part of rest and worship. The Year of Jubilee was particularly interesting as they were supposed to celebrate in the 50th year with total amnesty from debt, servitude, and returning all land to its original owners. I had not heard or read of the Year of Jubilee before (other than that "Days of Elijah" song from 10 years ago) and was intrigued by it. I haven't discovered much more about it, but it's nice to think about. That would be quite a party, wouldn't it? It's on my list of things to ask Him about.

I'm glad that the same God who very specifically lays out the details of living a life of holiness and offering sacrifices is also a God who likes to plan parties.

Exodus (Moses)

The second book of the Bible is overflowing with dramatic action and adventure. This is where we see the first example of prejudice (fear) as the Egyptian Pharaoh decides the Israelites can be a threat and therefore has them enslaved. This is where we see the story of Moses being chosen by God to lead the people out of Egypt. This is where we see them radically set free, only to step willingly into the trap of sin and greed.

I really love Moses, and have a long list of questions to ask him one day. Dude was not at all seeking a position of leadership of power. As a matter of fact, he was pretty much doing all he could to run far away from any chance of ever being in charge...even when the Lord God Almighty set a bush on fire right in front of his face, he tried to talk the God of creation out of using him to free the people! Serious self-image issues...probably owing to a prominent speech impediment he had. And yet he was the one God wanted to use. You know, that whole "qualifying the called, not calling the qualified" thing. 

So, once Moses realized he was not getting out of this gig, and that his little brother Aaron was also going to be a major player, he gathered up the elders and talked to them about God's mission to set His people free. 

I have never seen the old Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston, but it's enough a part of the 1950's pop culture that I can hear the "Let My people go" in that deep, sing-song voice. Even in other recreations of the exodus, the message to Pharaoh was always the line "let My people go." The actual statement from the Lord, repeated many times, was "Let my people go that they may serve Me." Hmmm. How many times do we celebrate and cherish the freedom we have, but we forget that the purpose for setting us free was that we would choose to serve Him? 

The plagues come to Egypt with ample warning from God through Moses. Pharaoh is a big fat liar, and he pretends to set the people free several times. Thus, the plagues. They were:
1. Nile turned to blood 
2. Frogs
3. Gnats
4. Flies
5. Death of livestock
6. Boils
7. Hail
8. Locusts
9. Darkness
10. Death of firstborn

Immediately before the last plague, in which the firstborn son of each household was struck dead, God gave Moses the instructions for the Passover. This was the event which every household still keeping Jewish traditions celebrates to this day. 

The most exciting chapters are as the people are truly, finally set free, and begin to pass through the Red Sea (conveniently parted by the Creator of the universe, thankYouverymuch), and the Lord begins to give them statutes and laws for their new government. In chapter 22 we see the Bible's first mention of the importance of caring for orphans. "You shall not afflict any orphan or widow" (22:22) There is a note in my Bible about this chapter that indicates that the Hebrew law is noted for its fairness and social responsibility to the poor. The heart of God is that we care for those who cannot help themselves! 

Once God gives instructions for the governing of the people, then He lays out in specific detail how the tabernacle is to be built. There are hundreds of verses about specifics that range from the loops on the curtains to the cups on the lampstand, and I had to ask the question: if God wanted it to be such an exact thing, why didn't He just give it to the people? He could have created it in a half a millisecond. BOOM, there's your tabernacle. The people would have cherished it even more if it had come straight from His hand. In talking with my husband about this, he clarified that this was mostly about an exercise in obedience. It took discipline and fortitude and courage and strength and faith to believe these instructions and to carry them out to the finest detail. And many of the callings God places on our own individual lives are very much the same: acts in obedience. 

There are even detailed instructions on the clothing that Aaron and his sons (the first high priests) were to wear. Jewels and breastplates and fancy cording with tinkling gold bells...beautiful! And then they have to go sacrifice and sprinkle blood all over everything. Ick! I know the significance of the sacrifices, atonement for sin and all that jazz, but somewhere there had to be some Hebrew chicks who were sad to see those robes get stinky animal blood all over them. 

Another notable moment in this book was that when God gave all these instructions to Moses, He had him up in the mountaintops with Him for like 40 days. Part of those instructions were about the importance of Aaron's involvement as a high priest. During that time, sweet little Joshua was waiting faithfully on the ground for Moses to come back. Aaron, though, was catching it from the people. They were doubting that Moses was coming back or that God cared about them, so they wanted an idol. Aaron, bless his heart, caved and made them one. Guess he was good at the public speaking thing but bad at the actual leadership thing. Anyway, so what I thought was amazing here was that even while Aaron was betraying the Lord by building an idol for the people to worship, God was planning Aaron's role as a high priest of the Israelites, one of the most reverent and trusted positions in the society. Wow, that is some serious grace!  

Exodus ends as the tabernacle is completed and all the priests are doing their thing. I loved the warm fuzzies given off by the last verse, which describe how the cloud (which was the glory of the Lord) covered the tabernacle tent, and remained with them throughout all of their journeys. Aaahhh....good stuff. The Lord might call us out to a wilderness and test our obedience but He will remain with us every single step of the way, even when we run from Him and try to convince Him of our unworthiness. Serious grace, I tell ya. 

Genesis (Moses)

As a part of a personal challenge from this book, I am currently reading through the Bible. There are, like, a gajillion different reading plans, which all seem wonderful; however, I do not like reading plans. Reading is my plan. Don't schedule my reading. I like reading at my own pace, pausing to ask and go back to find answers to my own questions. But thanks, all writers of reading plans. I'm sure your schedules are lovely and helpful and thorough and beneficial. My goal is to complete the Bible, reading from cover to cover, in 1 year. Hopefully I won't saunter too long through the Word and end up not making my goal. But honestly, is there such a thing as "sauntering too long in the Word?" As with other books I read, I'll be posting summaries/thoughts here, and will label each book with the Bible tag.

Anyway, here we are, beginning at the beginning.

Genesis is the first book in the Bible, composed of 50 chapters. The beginning of the world, and all of the subsequent drama, is included. People are created, their hearts beat about 5 times before they foul up a perfect world, but even in these earliest phases, the groundwork is laid for humanity's ultimate salvation, one so strong that not even we can mess it up. Many of the stories I've heard since childhood are found in Genesis, but there are also lots of insight and other interesting aspects to those stories that you gain when you actually put your eyes on the page and read it all word for word.

My favorite people from this book were Joseph and Abraham. Joseph experienced some pretty nasty stuff at the hand of his brothers. They picked on him, they threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, lied to their father about what happened to him, and pretty much tried to forget he ever existed. There's no telling all the mean things they actually said to him when all of this was happening. Yet, he tells them that "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (chapter 50, verse 20). Because, as a result of their betrayal and abandonment of him, Joseph was relocated to Egypt, where God used him to foretell and prepare for a terrible famine that would have otherwise taken the lives of so many people, probably Joseph's entire family. It is a powerful thing to remember that sometimes what other people in our lives intend for evil, the Lord means for good. Remembering this will help us react differently when suffering comes our way. God made us, He is sovereign, and that is all that matters in the good, bad, and ugly of this life.

Abraham was the son of Terah, who descended from Shem, who was one of Noah's three sons. In chapter 12, verse 1, the Lord told Abraham (then, Abram...apparently name changes in the Bible were both common and significant) to "go the land I will show you; and I will make you a great nation..." God essentially told Abraham to do something that was sort of nuts. He told him to take his family and leave all that he knew, all that was safe, all that was comfortable, and to GO. He didn't tell him where, though, nor did He say how long it would be before He would let Abraham in on the plan. He just said to GO. And you want to hear what's even more nuts? Abraham did! He went! I wonder what Sarah (his wife) had to say about all of this. I can just hear people talking about how crazy they were, and how stupid it was to leave safety, and how unwise Abraham must be to take his family into the unknown, etc. Abraham and Sarah made lots of mistakes, but the most important great thing they did was to obey and to go.

And speaking of Abraham, it is in chapter 17, verse 10, when Abraham and his crew are settling down in the land of Canaan, that the Lord establishes a covenant with him that involves Abe and all his manfolk getting circumsized. I don't know about you, but I am thinking that Abraham probably responded with something like, "You want me to what?! You want me to cut off part of my what?!" And I wonder how the other guys, who had not heard this instruction straight from the Lord, reacted to Abraham when he started cutting off foreskins. Nevertheless, in verse 23, we see that Abraham immediately went and circumsized every male in his household. Between going and leaving all he knew, offering his son as a sacrifice, and getting circumsized, Abraham had this obedience thing down. Of course, he messed up lots of other times, but we can learn from those as well.

There are many more of these real-life encouragements and applications in Genesis. It made me sad to leave this book behind because there were so many significant people and events included. I loved every word of it. Next stop: Exodus.