Thursday, September 30, 2010

Deuteronomy 19, 20, 21 Going to War

MosesImage via Wikipedia

Since God promised to enlarge Israel’s borders, Moses also instructed them on how they were to prepare for battle.  Moses continually emphasized to his nation that the land they were about to take was already prepared for them by God.  Since they were to receive their land in manageable bits, Moses informed them that later they would have more battles and that the Levites, who ministered before God, were to keep the nation focused on God and on His promises.

In Deuteronomy 20: 2 – 4, the priest was told to stand before the troops and adjure Israel  not to be afraid but rather to remember that “The Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

And then, any of the troops distracted from leaning on God, were encouraged to go home.  This pertained to newly weds, a new homeowners, anyone afraid, anyone preoccupied with his job, etc.  God only wanted recruits who were completely – body, mind, and soul – devoted to His Word and to His promise to Israel.  Those who could not be fully focused on God were to be considered to be liability.  In this passage, I feel, that Moses underscored the spiritual significance of the battles Israel would face.  These battles belonged exclusively to God and to those He called fight.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Deuteronomy 16, 17, 18 God Promised to Choose a Place as a Dwelling for His Name

The Jordan RiverImage via Wikipedia
A few years ago, when my Dad was hospitalized with severe cardiovascular complaints, we encouraged him to fight his ailment by assisting him in planning an elaborate trip to Prince Edward Island.  We discussed the modifications that he would need to make to his RV, the various point of interest along the way, the best time of year to go, etc.  I firmly believe that his recovery from a quadruple by-pass was greatly helped by keeping his hope for the future alive and by giving him a vision of the future.

In Deuteronomy, as Moses gave his last impassioned address to a nation about to enter the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, he continued to build on a vision he received from God and desired to actualize in the hearts of Israel.

Almost inexplicably, Moses instructed Israel about the location where the Feasts of the Lord, introduced in Leviticus, were to be observed.    Only in Deuteronomy was their observance first associated with “the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for His Name” .Moses stated that to celebrate the Passover, each Israelite family had to sacrifice a lamb “at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for His Name” (Deut. 16:2).  Then Moses gave an injunction against sacrificing the Passover lamb in any of the towns in which they live.  It could only be sacrificed in the place the Lord will choose. 

The Feast of Weeks was to be celebrated with rejoicing “at the place God will choose as a dwelling for His Name” (Deut. 16:11).  Then the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) was to be celebrated with great joy “at the place the Lord will choose” (Deut. 16:16). During Sukkot, Israel was commanded to be joyful because “the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.” (Deut 16:15)

All of this was being told to Israel while they were still camping in the desert, east of the Jordan.  The land they saw across the Jordan River was still occupied by the Amalekites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites, who terrified Israel thirty eight years earlier. Essentially, Moses was telling a frightened group of people that as far as God was concerned their battles with the denizens of Canaan were over and victorious.  God wanted them to see that He had a bigger plan for the nation which included choosing a place in the land of Canaan in which to build a dwelling for His Name.  The Lord wanted Israel to fully understand that He intended to live in their midst.

While Moses only introduced the idea that the Lord would choose a place for His Name in Deut. 12, in these three chapters, this idea is accelerated, repeated several times.  I suspect that the people of Israel could better face the battles ahead of them if they were fully assured that God not only stood by them but also had plans for them beyond just giving them the land.  Israel had yet to fight a single battle.   But before crossing the Jordan, they had to be resolved that God Himself would fight for them and that he would go ahead of them. Hearing of God’s plans for their future enabled Israel to confidently tackle the obstacles facing them.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Deuteronomy 13, 14, 15 Anticipating Life in the Promised Land

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy ...Image via Wikipedia

As Moses continued to instruct the generation of Israelites who were about to enter the Promised Land, it is interesting to note that he addressed the nation as though conquest of the inhabited land was a forgone conclusion.  Earlier, Moses had assured Israel of God’s everlasting covenant with them and reminded them of God’s promise that He would go before them to dispossess the inhabitants. Having said that, Moses shifted Israel’s thought away from worrying and wondering about their imminent entry into Canaan; away from worrying about the anticipated battles and related stress.

By talking about how they were to relate to each other and to God once in the land of Canaan, Moses refocused the way the nation thought about the Promised Land. He had them visualizing themselves settled comfortably in cities and dealing with violations of the Law.  He talked to them about the food they were permitted to eat; about tithing of their prosperous crops; about taking on servants; about cancelling debts; about living in cities.  He talked about stability to people who spent their entire life wandering throughout the desert, packing up and moving as God directed them to do. 

Then, in Deuteronomy 12:11, Moses, for the first time, tells Israel

Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for His Name – there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord.  Deuteronomy 12:11

The second time a specific place of worship is mentioned is

            "... go to the place the Lord your God will choose ... Then you and your household shall eat   there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice." Deuteronomy 14: 25 - 26


So Moses not only had the people of Israel think about how they would live and interact in a normal, non-warring society, but also he introduced God’s plan for the tabernacle to  be permanently located in a city chosen by Him.  Neither the people nor their tabernacle would wander through the desert any more.  By stating that it was God’s desire for there to be a city for national worship in Canaan, Moses further underscored God’s covenant promise that the land of Canaan belonged to Israel and that He would go ahead of them to make certain that Israel could take possession of their land. Moses told Israel that they could  look forward to worshipping God joyfully, without worrying about being attacked. 

In Deuteronomy, Moses turned Israel's eyes to God, to His provision, and to His covenant promise. As Moses  communicated God's vision for the nation and God's committment to the people, he strove to imbed the idea that the nation's spiritual journey and destiny did not end with crossing the Jordan River.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Deuteronomy 10, 11, 12

The Ten Commandments on a monument on the grou...Image via Wikipedia

In these chapters, Moses knew that his time of shepherding Israel through the desert was coming to an end.  Although he loved his people, Moses worried about Israel’s ability to continue in God’s will.  After all, they rebelled numerous times over the past forty years, incurring God’s anger and judgment. . 

As he recounted Israel’s history, Moses gave the younger generation a sense of belonging to a long line of people with whom God had a relationship.  Israel existed not on the basis of anything they were or did, but simply because God chose to love them.  As Moses gave the younger generation a vision of Israel from God’s perspective, he enabled them to understand that they were a people with a destiny, with special directions from God.  As the time drew nearer for Israel to enter the land of Canaan, Moses sought to impress God’s Law, which separated them from all other nations, onto their hearts.  Because he didn’t want it to be just about the letter of the Law, Moses desired for Israel to love the Lord with the strength of their entire being.

That being said, Moses charged the nation to demonstrate their love for the Lord by keeping His commandments. In Deuteronomy 11, Moses also stated that because Israel was witness to God’s mighty signs, wonders, miracles, and works, they saw and experienced the true, living God in action.  Having experienced God in such extraordinary ways, Moses felt that it should put Israel into a frame of mind of almost involuntarily wanting to worship God through obedience.  Moses went on to say that obedience, as an expression of their love for the Lord, would give them the strength to go and possess the land of Canaan.

The word strength as used here does not refer to muscles or body building.  Rather it is the Hebrew חָזַק (chazaq), which connotes determination, perseverance, steadfastness, or resolve.  It is interesting to note that Israel’s ability to take possession of the land of Canaan was linked to Israel’s obedience to God’s Law.  If Israel’s obedience stemmed from their absolute love for the Lord, then they would have complete confidence in God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan. 

Israel was not supposed to look at who lived in the land of Canaan but rather to look only to the Lord their God who promised the land as an everlasting covenant to them.  Then, as now, love and obedience enable the believer to look to God with the full confidence of knowing that His promises stand.

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for chazaq (Strong's 2388)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 26 Sep 2010. < http://
Strongs=H2388&t=KJV >
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Deuteronomy 7, 8, 9 God's Covenant of Love אָהַב

The Tetragrammaton Yahweh intended to be prono...Image via Wikipedia

As Israel anticipated entry into the land of Canaan, God reminded Israel of their origins and of His hand in providing for the nation. 

Deuteronomy 8: 2 - 3.   Remember how the Lord (יְהֹוָה , Yĕhovah) your God  (אֱלֹהִים , 'elohiym) led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.  And He humbled (עָנָה`anahyou, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 

Israel was asked to remember how "the Lord your God" or as the Hebrew expanded translation would read The Existing One who is Ruler and Judge Over All, took care of them and provided for all of their needs.  However, before providing for Israel, God first humbled the nation.  In Hebrew, this word connotes to be afflicted, to be put down, to be weakened.  So, when God caused Israel to hunger, He afflicted the nation until they saw just how weak and vulnerable they were. 

Maybe, while the nation was absolutely helpless - alone in the desert - and without successful recourse to possible vestigial allegiances to Egyptian gods, God had to again show Israel that He was their Covenant God who would provide for all of their needs.  Maybe then they also recognized a spiritual hunger which was previously filled unsatisfactorily by the spiritual "junk food" of Egyptian deities.  Before God could fill this nation with His righteous provision, His Law, and the realization of His promises, He had to bring them to an understanding of their emptiness and their hunger for Him.  Though God gave them manna, they really were learning to live on the words from God's mouth.

Although God gave Israel numerous instructions about entering Canaan, the dominant theme is to take God at His word; to trust Him to do as He promised; to seek to live in accordance with His commandments simply because He designed them for Israel so that He could "keep His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments " (Deut. 7:9).  In Hebrew אָהַב ('ahab), love,  implies a sense of longing or yearning.  

In Deut. 8:2, God stated that He humbled Israel to know what was in the heart in the heart of the nation. Even though He saw and judged the rebellions in the desert, He still proclaimed to Israel how much He yearns for them and how much He loves the nation.  Here God demonstrates that love is neither earned nor a reflection of the beloved's worthiness.  Rather, love is strictly a function of the one who loves.  God chose Israel to love and that love remains eternal, as is the God who swore by Himself.

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for Yĕhovah (Strong's 3068)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 25 Sep 2010. < http://
strongs=H3068&t=KJV&page=6 >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for 'humble' in the KJV". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 25 Sep 2010. < http://
Criteria=humble&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for 'ahab (Strong's 157)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 25 Sep 2010. < http://
Strongs=H157&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for 'I Am' in the KJV". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 25 Sep 2010. < http:// >

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Deuteronomy 4, 5, 6 שָׁמַע Shema, O Israel!

In this 1768 parchment, Jekuthiel Sofer emulat...Image via Wikipedia
As I remember  my aunt who died this morning of complications from diabetes,  I think of a voice that is now stilled - never to be heard again. I miss my aunt and hold onto many happy childhood memories in which she played a part.  I grieve as the Israelites must have been grieving when
Moses had assembled them in these opening chapters of Deuteronomy.

  Most of the people Moses  addressed in Deuteronomy were mourning  someone's death.  Only thirty-eight years earlier, God had judged everyone in Israel who was twenty years old or more for rebelling at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 13 -14).  Can you imagine that in the space of thirty-eight years a few hundred thousand individuals died?  Only those who were under twenty at the time of the rebellion were to be allowed entrance into the Promised Land.  It's hard to move to a foreign country when your heart may be bound to someone buried in the land of your birth.  

While Israel knew that one day they would enter the Promised Land, maybe there were some who were getting attached to the land through which they roamed.  They knew where family and friends were buried.   Maybe it was becoming more difficult emotionally to embrace a new land.

Moses called the nation together and re-capped Israel's history.  As this somber, grieving nation began to consider God's promise for them, Moses  called them to listen to God's word.  Though the generation that perished already received the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, Moses formally presented it to a generation already familiar with the Law  in Deuteronomy 4, 5, 6. 

After reciting the entire Law, Moses concluded it with the compelling "( שָׁמַע ) Shema, O Israel!"  or "Hear, O Israel!"

Deuteronomy 6:4 -7.   Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give to you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk to them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

 Shema (Hebrew  שָׁמַע ), means to hear as in to give heed or to obey.  The entire Law that God gave Israel was to be imprinted upon their hearts so that they would live life through the lens of the Law.  What really struck me about the Law, which for the most part forms the foundation of civilized criminal law i.e. don't steal; don't murder; don't lie or perjure yourself., is the fifth commandment:

Deuteronomy 5: 16.  Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Since this Law was first given to Israel, the most obvious reading is that God  instructed the people of Israel to honor their parents so that they may have a long, good life in the land of Canaan.   Generally, to honor means to treat with respect or to revere.  In Hebrew, honor, כָּבַד (kabad), implies to consider someone as have great importance or weighty significance.  Israel was told to value their parents highly; to attribute enormous significance to them; to regard parents almost as they would God Himself.

Because  the second part of the "Shema, O Israel!" addresses the relationship of the parent to the child, there is an extra emphasis on the sanctity and holiness of the family unit.  Parents, at all times, were to find opportunities to talk to their children about God's Laws and about His love for them.  An expression of God's love for Israel was the Law He gave to them (Deuteronomy 4: 7- 8.  What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way we have the Lord our God is near to us whenever we pray to Him?  And what other nation is so great as to have such  righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?").

In His Sovereign wisdom, God created families as the social unit in which His Law was to be learned.   In the fifth commandment, God did not qualify which parents should receive honor.  Rather, honor is due simply because of the position parents hold in God's scheme.  As teachers of God's Law, parents were to be regarded as God's ambassadors or emissaries by their children.    Parents are accountable to God to teach their young, while the young are to reverently receive the instruction their parents give. By this injunction, the bar was raised for both the parents and their children.   Perhaps, when both parents and children are focused on learning and living in God's expressed will, or Law, they are seeing each other through God's eyes.  Maybe, when foibles and faults are seen in Heaven's perspective, families can get along much better.  So, in His Wisdom, God made the Law, the study of God's requirements,  the focal point of the Israelite family. Thus, in the fifth commandment  both the first four spiritual laws and the second five civil laws are bound.  

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for kabad (Strong's 3513)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 24 Sep 2010. < http://
Strongs=H3513&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for shama` (Strong's 8085)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 24 Sep 2010. < http://
Strongs=H8085&t=KJV >

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deuteronomy 1, 2, 3 Do not Fear or be Discouraged

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy ...Image via Wikipedia
Sometimes, when faced with a daunting or difficult task which I don’t really want to do, I might be reluctant to start it altogether.  If something about the task frightens me, then I really don’t want to do it.  And, if accomplishing said task depended entirely upon me, it just wouldn’t happen.

In the final days of his life, just before Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan, Moses repeatedly exhorted the Israelites not to be afraid or discouraged. It seems that he sensed their fear and anxiety about believing that God, the King of the Universe, had, in fact, given them the land of Canaan. 

While Israel wandered in the wilderness over the past thirty eight years, burying the generation that refused to enter Canaan when they rebelled at Kadesh Barnea, they probably had much time to speculate how things could have been different.  While some thought that it was a bad idea to leave their slave labor in Egypt, other Israelites saw God’s hand in delivering them from hostile nations.  This nation was divided in how they perceived God and the covenant promises given to them.

It seems that fear and discouragement prowled through the camp, ready to snatch the resolve of Israel.  Yes, God promised them the land of Canaan, but what if Moses was wrong? What if Abraham got it wrong? What if God can’t be trusted?  As Israel looked to Canaan, they saw the Promised Land as well as a land inhabited by numerous nations and even the Anakites, a nation of giants.  Many in Israel may have felt that they were on the brink of extinction.  And now, Moses was giving them their marching orders.

Deuteronomy 1:21 Behold, the LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up [and] possess [it], as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.

Deuteronomy 3:2  And the LORD said unto me, Fear him not: for I will deliver him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand; and thou shalt do unto him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon.

Deuteronomy 3:22  Ye shall not fear them: for the LORD your God he shall fight for you.

In fear is defined as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.”   God instructed Israel to enter the land of Canaan and to dispossess all of the inhabitants who were there already.  While Israel knew that the land was beautiful and that it was given to them by God, they were terrified that they would be slaughtered by the people who already inhabited Canaan. Viewing this through the eyes of our politically correct world in which we must tolerate the beliefs of all people, meaning that we must regard everyone as equally right, God’s directive to Israel seems barbaric and even embarrassing.  How can a righteous God who loves everyone order such a thing?

To put Israel’s assignment into a Biblical perspective, God, the Holy One of Israel, had earlier flooded the entire world, drowning all of its inhabitants except for Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives.  God did not choose to tolerate the sin of the world any longer – so, He flooded the world.

Even though God created the nation of Israel so that they might teach the world how to come to Him, He executed swift judgment on those who rebelled against Him. As this fledgling nation was learning how to worship God in an acceptable way, God enforced His position that there was no other way to worship Him other than the way He prescribed.  God was creating a chosen and pure line through whom the Redeemer or Messiah would come. 

Since the nation was so easily polluted spiritually, God told them to get rid of all that could possibly lure them away from Him.  Israel knew that God meant business.  Yet, when they looked at the giants and fierce warriors of Canaan, they became frightened. Probably, as most of the people saw it, they were between a rock and a hard place.  If they failed to do what God ordered, there would be a sure judgment against them.  If they entered the land of Canaan, they feared a whopping by the inhabitants.

So, Moses exhorts them repeatedly, “Do not be afraid or discouraged” (Deut. 3:21) He reminded them that they had to look to God for the ability to carry out the task He ordered.  Moses instructed Israel to trust in God for all of their needs; to trust God to effect His covenant promises.  Moses recognized that fear was Israel’s biggest stumbling stone.  Rather than to study their own weakness, Israel needed to focus on God, on His strength,  and on His provision for them. 

Moses was reminding Israel that God would enable them to do the tasks that he assigned to them.  They did not need to fear or be discouraged, because their God was bigger than anything problem they would face. 

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Numbers 34, 35, 36 Cities of Refuge

Map of the "Cities of Refuge".Image via Wikipedia
As the nation of Israel was getting ready to move into the Promised Land of Canaan, God, through Moses, gave Israel numerous last minute instructions.  While the Levites knew that they would have no land allotted to them, God assured the Levites that they would be given dedicated cities within the tribal territories, in which they would live.

Though the Levites were assigned forty-eight towns with pastureland, of greatest interest to me are six of those towns which were designated as cities of refuge: Shechem, Hebron, Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth, and Bezer.  The function of these cities was to provide a safe place for someone accused of involuntary manslaughter, while he awaited trial before the assembly.  In this chapter, God distinguished between two types of murder: accidental or premeditated.  Even if someone accidentally killed another and was exonerated in the trial, he had to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest at which time he could return to his home and not fear the blood avenger.

Since pre-meditated murder was punishable by death, the Levitical cities of refuge housed people guilty of involuntary manslaughter.  In effect, these people were prisoners of those towns because outside of the city, the avenger of blood could murder them.  As they had to live out their lives in the priestly city, they had to come to terms with themselves, their lives, the family they may never see again, a community they enjoyed, etc.  So, God placed them in the midst of the Levites, who were charged with teaching God's Word.  I think that this is a beautiful example of God meeting hurting people at the point of their hurt and revealing Himself to them, so that they might be healed.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Numbers 31, 32, 33 God's Vengeance, נָקַם (naqam)

Map of the Land of Israel as defined in Number...Image via Wikipedia

These chapters begin immediately after Israel was through burying the 24,000 people who died from a plague that God unleashed in their camp when they allowed themselves to be seduced by the Midianites.  After purifying the nation of those who strayed from Him, God repeated the times of assembly, when He could be sought and found, emphasizing that He must be approached correctly.  Thus, God reassured the nation of His love for them before He addressed their grief over those who perished.

No doubt, the deaths of so many weighed as heavily on God as they did on Israel.  So, God told Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites.  Even though there were over 600,000 men in Israel, God instructed Moses to send only 1,000 armed men from each tribe.  By sending relatively few men into battle, God was telling Israel that He Himself was going to supply the rest of the military strength Israel required to defeat the Midianites. 

I think that since the nation was so recently chastised and reaffirmed by God,  they were more inclined to take God at His Word.  There is no record of anyone defying Moses about the numbers of men sent to war or about the need to go to war. 

This was a war, ordered by God, against an entire people.  All Midianite males were killed, including the kings and the wizard, Balaam. All of the Midianite cities and camps were destroyed.  Even though this was not God’s original plan, the only Midianites spared were the virgin females.  Israel took all of their flock, herds, and goods as plunder which had to be purified before brought into the camp.

Vengeance is the idea of inflicting harm on someone who has harmed you. I quote Numbers 31:1-2a:

            The Lord said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites.”

In Hebrew, נָקַם (naqam) means vengeance, the same as in English.  

So why does a loving God want vengeance?  It was because God loved Israel so much that He ordered Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites who caused many in Israel to turn from God to Baal worship.    I feel that in this passage God showed that He mourned for the Israelites who rejected Him, accepted Baal, subsequently perishing in the judgement of the plague. 

By rejecting God and His people, the Midianites set themselves up as equal to God.  If the Midianites really recognized who God was, they would have beseeched Israel to teach them how to correctly worship God.  Instead they chose to corrupt Israel, to weaken the nation, and then to attempt to destroy the entire people.  Since the Midianites regarded themselves as God’s equals, He fought against them as though they were an equal match to Him.   Fighting against the Midianites, twelve thousand men of Israel killed every single male including their wizard Balaam.  However, not one Israelite warrior was killed in this battle.  Clearly God fought for Israel and ensured their uncontested victory. 

In this battle, God also showed the new generation of Israelites that they could count on Him to defeat anyone who stood in the way of His Will, which was that Israel live in the land of Canaan.  As they were about to enter Canaan, Israel had to believe that they were about to arrive as owners who find squatters on their property and that God was their strength and justification. 

In fact, today, as in the past, Israel’s sole claim to the land is the nation’s resolve to trust and believe that God gave them that land in the everlasting covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17: 7 -8:

            “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and to your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

In Hebrew, עוֹלָם (`owlam), everlasting means continuous, eternal, and perpetual.  Even though nearly five hundred years lapsed between the entrance into Canaan and the initial covenant with Abraham, Israel, too, had to unwaveringly believe in God’s Word, in His faithfulness to Abraham, and most importantly, believe that God was in fact the Sovereign God, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the King of the Universe.  They had to firmly believe that the God who revealed Himself to them, owned all of the earth and that He alone assigned lands to nations. 

Everyone who defied/defies Israel’s rightful ownership of Canaan, were/are in fact defying the God, who says that He is the King of this Universe.  The God of Israel states in the Bible that the entire land of Canaan belongs to Israel because He gave them that land.  The next question is, do you believe that the God of Israel, the I AM that I AM, is who He says He is? Do you take Him at His Word?

If you take God at His Word, what kind of response do you make to that Word?

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for `owlam (Strong's 5769)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 18 Sep 2010. < http://
Strongs=H5769&t=KJV >
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Friday, September 17, 2010

Numbers 28, 29, 30 Feasts of the Lord

Shabbos (shabbat) table at my house, a few min...Image via Wikipedia
After the affair with the Moabites and the subsequent plague, there was a major re-structuring in Israel.  God ordered a second census to be conducted and Joshua was appointed as Moses' successor.  And, again, God summarized how He should be worshiped.

The sacrificial system instituted by God was always about a specific sacrifice approved and stipulated by God.  God's outright rejection of the Moabite worship showed Israel that God's Holiness could be approached only in the way that He outlined.   God emphasized that though there were many counterfeit worship systems, the way He showed Israel was the only acceptable, true way.

In highlighting national worship, God began with the daily offerings, then weekly, then monthly, and then reminded Israel of the five big Feasts of the Lord: Passover; Feasts of Weeks; Feast of Trumpets; Day of Atonement; Feast of Tabernacles.  While reading today  I began to wonder about the word "feast".  In English, this word conjures up festivities, food, revelry, company - a party.  But, when I looked it up in Strong's Concordance, feast  ( Hebrew מוֹעֵד (mow`ed)) means an assembly at an appointed time and at an appointed place.

In Genesis, we read that God created the "heavens and the earth" in six days and rested on the seventh day.  Since our twenty-four hour periods (days) are marked by earth's rotation on its own axis, God also created time and seasons.  In appointing days during which Israel was to assemble to honor God, God created days, which in and of themselves, were sacred and separate from the rest of the calendar.

Today is 9 Tishri and also the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  Tomorrow will be a very special Sabbath because it's a double Sabbath, a doubly sanctified twenty-four hour period.  For Israel it is not only a time to rest from all work but also a day to focus on sin that separates them from God;  a day to receive God's forgiveness.

But going back to today's readings, I love how God picks up the people who remained after the plague; He ordered a census thus numbering them -  to let  each person understand just how significant and important each was to Him.  Just in case any survivors were worried, God provided new leadership to reassure them that they would not be forsaken and rejected in the desert.  Then God turned their eyes to the Feasts He instituted.  He reminded Israel that this world connected with Eternity, with God's Holiness, at appointed times and at an appointed place.  

God again proclaimed His love for His people and embraced them with His provision for communion with Him.  I really think that these are amazing chapters.

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for mow`ed (Strong's 4150)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 17 Sep 2010. < http://
Strongs=H4150&t=KJV >

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Numbers 25, 26, 27

The Jordan River and "Kfar-Hanasi" b...Image via Wikipedia
Remember how in the movie Star Wars, just before the Death Star exploded you saw a small space ship fly off from it?  You just knew that Darth Vader was coming back.

So, in Numbers 24 we read that, King Balak, after failing to get the most powerful wizard/prophet of his country to curse Israel, went his own way.  Really? King Balak was beyond irate that Balaam could not pronounce curses to override God’s blessings on Israel.  And Balaam, who was on King Balak’s side, wanted to curse Israel but was unable to do so because God prevented him. I'm sure that they passionately sought a way  to get back at Israel.  I don't believe that these two quietly went away, never to resurface.  I can picture them as being as devious as Darth Vader.

When  the Moabites first saw Israel, they were determined to destroy them. However,  the clever Moabites understood that if they could not curse Israel it was also unlikely that they would win in a battle against them.  So, it was time for Plan B.  I believe that King Balak and Balaam masterminded a plan to pry Israel away from the protection God afforded them.  They probably perceived some level of discontent in the Israelite camp.  Acting on that, they decided to appear to be friends or at least, friendly.  After all, they never openly attacked Israel.

In Numbers 25, we read that the Israelite men were seduced by the Moabite women.  Now how could that happen?      

At this point the nation of Israel had spent forty yeas wandering in the desert as they buried the generation that rebelled against God.  Israel collected manna every morning and ate it throughout the day; no country was their own; they were always on the move. I would imagine that there were many un-happy campers in Israel who were dissatisfied with Moses’ leadership and with God’s plans.  And, many, I’m sure many were bored with the lack of variety in their food. 

Scripture states that the Moabite women invited the men of Israel to the sacrifices to their gods, where they worshipped and feasted.  Many in Israel accepted this invitation. As the men of Israel happily ate barbequed meat and joined in the festivities, they fell into sexual immorality and spiritual bankruptcy. 

As many of Israel’s leaders thus rejected God and truly began to worship Baal, they effectively told the rest of Israel that all gods are equal; that the Moabites have a good form of worship; that it doesn’t matter what you believe or how you believe, as long as you believe in some kind of Higher Power. By taking Moabite women into their homes, they also stated that the Moabites were no different from Israel.  The men who turned away from God were setting the stage to destroy the nation God cultivated over the past forty years. 

The toxic doctrine they perpetrated was more efficient in decimating Israel than the battle with Moab would have been.

Scripture says that as God’s anger burned against Israel, a plague that killed 24,000 people was released in the Israelite camp.  Only when Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ran a spear through one of the most notable offenders, did the plague stop.  God said that His anger was turned away because Phinehas had as much zeal for God’s holiness as God did. 

As one person in Israel stood up for God’s holiness, for his knowledge of God, it sent a powerful enough message throughout the camp that God is real and that there is no other god like Him.  The plague was stopped and Israel understood that God intended for them to be a holy people, set apart from the other nations, only engaging in worship that God sanctioned.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Numbers 22, 23, 24 Balaam's Oracles Concerning Israel

Balaam and the Angel, as in Numbers 22:21-25, ...Image via Wikipedia
When Balak, the King of  Moab, saw the Israelites camped along the Jordan River, across from Jericho, he summoned Balaam, a powerful pagan priest who practised divination.  Although Balaam, full of his sense self and his own powers, did not recognize God as Sovereign over All, God did reveal Himself to him.  Balaam could not see God completely because he was too impressed with himself.

In this Numbers account, King Balak summoned Balaam and ordered him to curse Israel. Balak expressed his confidence in Balaam by saying that "I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed" (Numbers 22:6).  In earlier readings, we saw that God had blessed Israel numerous times concerning the longevity of the nation.  And yet, here we see that a man, standing in defiance to God, ordered another man, whom he revered above God, to cancel a blessing pronounced by God.

Even though Balaam did tell the King's representatives that he would ask God about their request before agreeing to do anything, I wonder if the confidence the King expressed in Balaam's power by asking that he overturn God's blessing, or God's Will, pitted Balaam's ego against God.  The divination fees did not seem to influence Balaam.  

The first time God appeared to Balaam, He told him not to go with Balak's representatives, so Balaam refused to go.   When the next group of representatives arrived to implore Balaam to go to King Balak, God gave Balaam permission to go providing that he did only as God told him to.

On the journey to Moab, Balaam's donkey stopped dead in her tracks three times in different locations.  Each time, Balaam beat his donkey severely in order to get her to get up and move.  Finally,  during the third beating, the donkey spoke to Balaam, reproaching him for these beatings, citing that this behaviour was unusual for her.  In effect, the donkey was calling Balaam's attention to look beyond the obvious, to see  that something was amiss.  God then opened Balaam's eyes and he saw the Angel of the Lord  (Numbers 22:31) standing in the road with His sword drawn.  Had the donkey had not stopped, Balaam would have lost his life.

So, God told Balaam to go.  He went. But, along the way, something was amiss.  I think that there is a study of contrasts here.  God, who sees into the hearts and minds of men, saw that Balaam was not going in the spirit God had intended for him to go.  Balaam, who saw in the physical, was blind to the spiritual and didn't see that there was a problem between him and God. After this encounter, Balaam knew, no matter what his thoughts or intentions were, that he had to honor God's direction, that he was no match for God.

In all, Balaam delivered four oracles regarding Israel, none of which were curses.  Through all four, God actually revealed Himself to Balaam and the Balak.  Had their hearts been open to God, they had an opportunity to glorify God and to enter into a relationship with Him.  But, hearing God, they still chose, by not aligning themselves with Him, to defy Him.  Balaam delivered the oracles God gave him, but neither he nor the King were pleased about them.

In the third oracle concerning Israel, Balaam ended by echoing King Balak's original request in mirror form.  Numbers 24:9 reads   "May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed."

Reflecting on world history, it can be seen that this oracle was upheld throughout the centuries.  

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Numbers 19, 20, 21 Speak to the Rock at Horeb

Across to the Promised Land 2Image by Gauis Caecilius via Flickr
Did you ever feel that some people were held to a higher standard than others?  A pastor might swear and shock or surprise church members whereas someone else may swear more profusely but no-one will notice. 

In these chapters, something similar happens.  Moses, who talked to God face to face, who knew God’s plans, who completely aligned himself with God’s will, disobeyed God in an almost negligible way.  Yet God punished Moses in the same way that the generation, who sent spies into the land of Canaan, was punished.  Everyone over the age of twenty was condemned to die in the desert, never to enter the Promised Land because they refused to enter it when God first offered it to them. God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land.

When Israel camped at Horeb, where forty years earlier the nation complained angrily about the lack of water, they again rebelled against Moses and Aaron.  It seems as though this time there was more anger and profound discouragement; most of the older generation had died and the children were now grown and impatient with the wilderness wandering.  They were tired, thirsty, and ready to lynch Moses and Aaron.  The people demanded water and possibly a return trip to Egypt.

Moses and Aaron fled to God’s presence.  It’s notable that they didn’t have to say anything – they just fell before the Lord and opened their hearts to Him.  God told Moses to take the staff he used forty years ago and to speak to the rock in front of the people so that water would pour out.

Moses took the staff, gathered all of Israel, and addressed them angrily. (Numbers 9 – 11)

            “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of the rock?’

Moses, in defiance of what God told him to do, struck the rock twice with his staff.  Water still gushed out but God called Moses on his disobedience.

Speak to a rock or strike a rock hardly seems like a big deal. But because Moses, the prophet who spoke God’s will, didn’t honor God in front of Israel, his disobedience was amplified by the number of eyes who witnessed his sin.  Everyone knew Moses sinned.  And everyone was probably watching to see how God would respond – maybe, they thought that God would loosen up on His position on sin.  But, God did not compromise on sin.  Moses was sentenced to death in the desert the same as everyone else who rebelled against God’s Word.

 People we elevate are always held to a higher standard than the regular guy because those we look up to often become role models.  We pattern ourselves after people we admire.  By disobeying God, Moses tacitly gave Israel permission to rebel against God.  God could not allow this to become the example Moses would set for Israel. 

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Numbers 16, 17, 18 Hesed: A Covenant Honoring Love

An interpretation of the borders of the Promis...Image via Wikipedia

Over the course of the book Numbers, we have read about tens of thousands of people perishing because they showed contempt for God.  Most often God released a plague or a fire through the camp.  In Chapter 16, the entire family of each of three men, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was swallowed up by the earth.  And, immediately after that, 14,700 people, who rebelled against God, died due to a plague.  This is where most people typically ask about happened to the God of Love and Mercy?  Why do we see an angry, wrathful God?  Do we even believe in such a God or is this only true for the Old Testament or Old Covenant?

How we answer these questions depends on how love (Hebrew אָהַב ('ahab)) and mercy  (Hebrew חֶסֶד (Hesed)) are defined.  Love implies enjoying a close, intimate relationship while mercy is about kindness and faithfulness. 

In Genesis 15, God initiated a unilateral, everlasting covenant with Abraham in which He promised to give Abraham numerous descendants and the land of Canaan.   God revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  Then, after four hundred years, God revealed Himself to Moses.  Over this time period God was creating a nation with a special destiny and purpose. 

Through Moses, God instructed Israel in the only way in which He, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, could be approached.  God also separated the Levites to serve Him and within their ranks, only the direct descendants of Aaron were permitted to be priests.  All of the other Levites were to be helpers.  The sacrificial system was initiated and could only be effected through the Levites.  This was the only way that God provided for Israel to seek Him.

By instructing the nation in how to relate to Him, God was showing Israel how much He enjoyed a close relationship with them.  In His mercy, He promised to honor His covenant with Israel, to show that He is predisposed to be faithful and kind to the nation with whom He established His covenant. 

God’s covenant is with the nation.  So, when individuals in the nation, rebelled against God and against His wisdom, He protected the entire nation from the individuals who would have destroyed Israel.  The people who showed contempt for God were endangering the spiritual health and welfare of those who sought a relationship with God.  I believe that since the nation of Israel was still so young and so fragile, God did not think that they were able to withstand the toxic thinking of those who opposed Him, so He summarily dispatched the rebels to the hereafter.

By acting in this way, God was really showing just how much He loved and treasured Israel.
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Numbers 13, 14, 15 Exploring the land of Canaan

Joshua and Caleb, as in Numbers 13Image via Wikipedi

I can’t begin to tell you just how many times I’ve done the exact opposite of what I knew to be God’s will.  No, I’m not boasting and I’m not proud of those decisions.  In fact, everything that I have ever done in opposition to God’s revealed will has brought heartache, trouble, grief or sorrow into my life. Over the course of my life, I’ve accumulated numerous regrets.  And always, I wonder, what would have been if I made God honoring decisions?

These chapters in Numbers document a national decision to listen to men rather than to God.  In the beginning of Chapter 13, God tells Moses to send a man from each tribe to explore (Hebrew תּוּר ) the land of Canaan which He was ready to give to them.  So, these twelve men, leaders among the tribes, explored Canaan for forty days.  While they found a fertile land with excellent crops, they also reported seeing the descendants of the Anak there.  Unusually tall and strong people, the Anak were reputed to be descended from “the sons of god” (Genesis 6:2) which was a phrase referring to fallen angels.  They were perceived as enemies of God as well as formidable enemies of those who loved God.  In addition to the Anak, they saw their old enemies, the Amalekites, who they defeated with God’s help, in an earlier battle.

At the end of forty days, leaders from the twelve tribes returned from their mission and reported that although the land was indeed fruitful, it was also terrifying.  They returned no longer looking to the God who brought them to this land, but rather they focused fearfully on the strength of the inhabitants.  They believed in neither God nor in His Word.  These tribal leaders trusted what they saw with their eyes rather than trusting in the spoken Word of God.

Only Caleb and Joshua tried to dissuade the people from listening to the other tribal leaders.  They, along with Moses and Aaron, pleaded with Israel “to trust that God is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:9). But Israel rebelled against God’s Word.

Though Moses interceded in prayer for the sin of the nation, God forgave them but did not remove the consequence of their sin.  God said that “not one of the people who saw His glory and miraculous signs … will ever see the land I promised on an oath.  No one who has treated Me with contempt will ever see it. …I will bring your children in to enjoy the land you have rejected. … For forty years, one year for each of the forty days you explored the land, you will suffer for your sins.” (Numbers 14:20 – 35) Everyone who was twenty years old and up (except for Caleb and Joshua) was included in this judgement.  Children referred to everyone under the age of twenty at the time that the twelve leaders explored the land of Canaan.

By not trusting in God to fight their battles, Israel doubted God’s character and ultimately, rejected His will for the nation.  The ten men responsible for fueling fear and distrust as well as spreading a bad report about Canaan, were immediately struck down with a plague.  Even though the Israelites then changed their minds and decided to enter Canaan after the death of these leaders, Moses told them that God had already pronounced His judgment and that it would be sinful and useless to try to enter Canaan without Him.
Predictably, the Israelites who attempted to enter the land suffered a military defeat.

What I find most reassuring about this account is that even though Israel sinned against God, God forgave them (Numbers 14: 20).  Even though they sinned, God never withdrew His covenant relationship with Israel.  God allowed the nation to bear the consequences of sin as a way of further teaching them that He was God, King of the Universe and Sovereign over all.  Bearing a consequence for sin has nothing to do with rejection or punishment.  Basically, it's learning from experience.  While God does give us the opportunity to learn from His Word, mankind typically resorts to "hands on" education.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Numbers 10, 11, 12 Manna vs. Meat

A tree of an unidentified species of Acacia (p...Image via Wikipedia

In these chapters of Numbers nearly two years had elapsed since the Israelites fled Egypt.  Throughout these months God was teaching them to trust in His provision for them (manna); to rely on His protection (battle with the Amalekites); to surrender to His direction (Israel camped where God led them); to heed His timing (Israel broke camp and marched when God said it was time to go). 

Yet, in spite of God’s Presence and obvious hand in the life of Israel, numerous Israelites began to complain about their circumstances.  Many decided that they didn’t like the manna God provided anymore – they craved the foods they ate in Egypt, forgetting the tears and hardship that accompanied those meals.  When Israel craved foods eaten in Egypt they were effectively rejecting God’s bountiful and loving provision for them in the desert. They said that God's food wasn't appetizing.

So, God agreed to supply the camp with enough quail to last them a month.  This account, however, reads like a bestial orgy implying that the meat wasn’t even cooked when Israel began to eat it.  Even though God instructed Israel about draining the blood of an animal before eating it, about correctly preparing food in a way that honored Him and sanctified the meal, Israel just grabbed the quail in a feeding frenzy.  By indulging an unbridled appetite, those who ate like that effectively turned away from God by disobeying His word and by despising His food.    Rather, they preferred to obtain a meal in their own way.

While the meat was still between their teeth, a severe plague struck  those who craved meat.  It is interesting to note that there is a difference between eating quail and "craving other food" (Numbers 11:34).  I wonder if the people who prepared the quail according to God's instructions, without craving it, survived the plague. 

From this reading I get that God provides what is best for us.  It may not necessarily be what we crave or desire, but it will always be what we require.  God knew what was needed for the journey ahead of Israel and He was methodically teaching Israel to trust in His sovereignty.
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