Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Numbers 5-10: We're Following the Leader

I'm back! After a long hiatus, I decided to pick up right where I left off and finish the Bible - and this blog - by the end of the year. So, let's get started.

When we last left off, Moses had counted all the men of Israel by tribes and God had explained the duties of the priests. We pick up with more ceremonial and religious duties in chapters 5-6.

Now, there's a part in the middle of chapter 5 that I don't really get: it's the test for adultery. If a husband got suspicious that his wife was having an affair, but he didn't have any witnesses, the process of finding out if it was true was to take her to the temple with an offering, and the priest would take a bowl of water and put some dust in it and make the woman drink it. If she got sick, she was guilty; if she didn't, she was innocent. What the heck? Well, apparently tests for unchastity were common - even universal - in ancient times. The thing is, as weird as it sounds, this test provided the suspected wife with some protection. Without witnesses, it would be the husband's word against the wife's, and in that culture, the man always won the argument. By requiring him to put her to some kind of trial, the husband was prevented from just acting on his suspicion and divorcing his wife (or something else). The manner of trial also clearly took the power out of the hands of man. The husband couldn't manipulate the judge to pronounce his wife guilty, because the judge was God. I wonder how well this trial system worked out.

Chapter 6 talks about the vows of Nazirites. I'm not going to go into that, but it's kind of neat to read.

In chapter 7, the tabernacle is anointed and consecrated, and at the same time, each of the twelve tribes presents and offering to the tabernacle, one tribe each day, presented by a leader of that tribe. The offering is exactly the same for each tribe: "one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense, one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old." That's a lot of stuff, and it says that twelve times, along with who gave the offering, who their father was, what tribe they were from, and which day they presented their offering. That's the whole chapter. Now, several years ago when I read the Bible before, this is exactly the sort of thing that I would skip over. But I made sure to read every word this time. Why? I don't know, I think it's important. I'm not sure if there's any special reason for listing each tribe separately even though they all gave the same thing; maybe it's just an affirmation of the distinctness of each group in spite of their unity under God. I'm not sure.

Chapter 8 is about cleansing the Levites and the terms of their service (they got to retire at 50!).

In chapter 9, God tells the Israelites to observe Passover again, but a few people ask Moses what they should do if they're ceremonially unclean during that time. What I find very interesting here is that instead of just answering right off the bat, Moses says, "Wait, and I will listen to what the LORD will command concerning you." And the Bible actually makes a point of saying that. I think this is very important, and it ties into the next thing that happens. It talks about the cloud that settled over the tabernacle - the presence of the LORD - and how the people followed it. It says that when the cloud lifted, the people set out and followed the cloud, and when the cloud settled on the tabernacle, the people made camp and stayed there as long as the cloud stayed. The text makes this point about four or five times:

"At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would make camp. . . . the sons of Israel woul dkeep the LORD's charge. . . according to the command of the LORD they remained camped. Then according to the command of the LORD they set out. . . . At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD's charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses."

In chapter 10, that is exactly what happens: the cloud lifts and the people start to move. It tells you in what order the tribes are lined up, and it looks like everybody is just revved up about following their God wherever he leads them.

If I could come up with a theme for these six chapters, it is this: wait for God to judge, wait for God to speak, wait for God to move. And for a brief moment in history, we see it actually happening with the Israelites. Don't get too comfortable though; next time I post things are going to be different.

No comments: