Yes, Yes; No, No; Men are men; Women are Women. Numbers 30 – part 1

(Due to the length of this post, it is split over two postings.  This is part 1.)

Numbers chapter 30 is perhaps one of the more ignored chapters of the Bible.  In our culture today this chapter is considered antiquated and degrading to women.  Why?  Because it makes a clear distinction between men and women, and there can be no argument about it.  But this distinction between the roles of man and woman is not a new topic for this chapter; it occurs throughout the Bible.  Many will try to discount such chapters by saying that it was for those cultures back then when women were viewed as under men.  One commentary (Mathew Henry Commentary) even goes so far as to say that women didn’t own anything, so they couldn’t be held to a vow.  Oh, I forgot to mention, Numbers 30 has to do with taking vows.  This chapter makes a big deal about taking vows.  Why?  This first part of the post deals with vows.  The next part deals with why men and women are treated differently.

Yeshua (Jesus) makes the statement, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”  Matthew 5:37  (ESV)

Taking a vow (in colloquial language, ‘swearing to do something’) is taken very seriously by God.  One of the “10 Statements” (10 Commandments) states, ‘do not take the name of Yehovah (the LORD) your God in vain.’  I know most of Christianity views this as only having to do with saying His name (which most Christians don’t actually even know), but this statement has long been viewed as having two separate meanings.  The first is that if you take a vow, be sure to keep it!  (Numbers 30:2).  [The second does have to do with misusing His name.]

If you make a vow to Yehovah (the LORD) your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for Yehovah (the LORD) your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.  But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin.  Deuteronomy 23:21-22 (ESV).

Yeshua (Jesus) was simply restating what was already written: don’t swear to do something and then don’t do it!  God does not like that.  Better not to swear (vow) at all.

This command has nothing to do with being unsure about doing something (and I have heard people use those words of Yeshua (Jesus) to try and say that you can’t ever be unsure or doubt).  No! The words have to do with taking vows (swearing).

It is such an important topic to God that many of the sacrifices that God proscribed have to do with completing vows (and weren’t for sin).  In “those days”, a vow would often sound like, “As Yehovah (the LORD) lives, I …”.  People would use His name in their vow.  Today, the equivalent would be something like this, “I swear to God …” or “I promise to do…”.   So, don’t do it!  Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.  To vow (swear / promise) and not do it is a sin against God!  It even applies to how we speak to our children.  So let’s watch our speech for this reason (as well as other reasons highlighted in scripture).

This may not seem like an important topic for today, but that is only because it is ignored, and as seen in Numbers chapter 30, the vow topic highlights the difference between men and women.

The fact that men and women are being treated differently in this scripture section is dealt with in part 2 of this posting.

  • Yosef

(Part 2 will show up in a couple days.)

What do the Sacrifices from the “Old Testament” have to do with Today? (Numbers 28-29)

Most Christians, when asked what they know about the sacrificial system will respond in one of these ways:

“They were done away with by Jesus’ death.”

“They were a burden.”

“They only atoned (covered over) sin.”

And this is almost always done so with a dismissive tone as if the sacrificial system was something bad and God did good to get rid of it.  Would you be surprised to hear that none of the above statements (with a partial exception for the first) are true, and that such statements hide some wonderful truths that Christians would be well to pay attention to.

Let’s start with a fundamental difference between Christianities point of view about the “Law of God” and the Jewish point of view.  Christians look at a law such as “don’t eat blood” and say, “I have to obey that?!”  It is a burden that has to be followed.  The Jewish point of view (including Yeshua’s point of view) would say, after having an opportunity to eat meat with the blood still in it, but not doing so, “I got to worship God by not eating blood just now.”  I hope you can get a glimpse of how fundamental this difference is as it affects you entire view point of the “old Testament.”

So, back to the sacrificial system.  Looking at Numbers 28 to 29, there is a long list of sacrifices to be given and instructions on how (this is just one place in the “Law” where sacrifices are discussed).  Note a few things.

First, the vast majority of the sacrifices have nothing to do with sin.  Nothing. 

This is true for all sacrifices.  There are sacrifices of thanksgiving, praise, finishing vows, and ritual purity (which is not about sin).  There are some sacrifices for sin.  Most are for the community (such as all those in the Numbers 28-29 passage).  There are some for individuals (such as in Leviticus 6:4-6).  Many of the sacrifices for sin are for ‘unintentional’ sin.

There are no sacrifices (with very few exceptions) for deliberate sin!  Consider King David and his sin with Bathsheba.  There was no sacrifice for that!

God forgave sin when people repented (actively turned from the sin).  This is the same in the “Old Testament” as in the “New.”  Consider 1 John 1:9,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (ESV)

“But what about Jesus’ sacrifice?” you may ask.

Yeshua’s (Jesus’) sacrifice “takes away the sin of the world,” just as it is written of him.  That includes the sin that we don’t even know about, or we don’t even realize is sin (such as following age old traditions that are completely accepted within Christianity but not accepted by God).  But even with Yeshua’s (Jesus’) sacrifice, we need to repent when we sin.

Lastly there are a couple important lessons to learn from the sacrificial system.  Note that God required that the animals sacrificed be “without blemish.”  In other words, it was to be one of the best animals.  And He was very specific about how it was to be done.  No pagan practices were involved.

When we worship God, do we give our best?  How often do we buy something new for those in need instead of giving old stuff (which is good, but not worship as God sets forth).

If we can learn anything from the sacrificial system, it is this: Give our Best in all our worship of God, and worship Him as He wants.

[Note: ‘Worship’ here is not limited to singing, but in every facet of life where we can be obedient to Him, including in our helping others.]

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Balaam, Balak, and the talking Donkey: Numbers 22 and 23

Before I start I have to say that this study isn’t about the donkey.  There are tons of teachings, preachings, and even songs about the donkey out there.  No, this study is about Balaam.  Specifically Balaam’s first encounter with the messengers from Balak, and his first message from the LORD.

Numbers 22:12-13, “God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them.  You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”  So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balaak, “Go to your own land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” (ESV)

Notice something interesting in what Balaam told the messengers?  He didn’t tell them all of what God had said.  It reminds me of how a child may act when he asks his parents if he can do something.  They say no and explain why.  The child then goes to his friends, pouting, and says, “my parents won’t let me.”  Balaam is acting the same way, and in doing so, two things are set in motion.

First, Balaak is encouraged to ask again, but with more reward promised.  I wonder if Balaam didn’t hope this would happen…

Second, an opportunity to honor God was lost.  God’s words were changed in that Balaam only reported some of what God said.  Balaam never reported the explanation God gave.  Balaam dropped the bit about a blessing.  Balaam was looking for immediate rewards (from Balaak for cursing Israel) and thus chose to ignore God’s promise.

So to do we today change God’s words.  One way is that people who give “a word from the Lord” may interpret those words into something different – something the speaker thinks the hearers want or need to hear.  This is a dangerous thing to do.  It puts one into the ‘false prophet’ camp.  However, much more rampant is the other way God’s word is changed.

The majority of us take some of God’s word, ignore or explain away other parts, and then run with it.  We forget that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  I see way to many examples of this behavior to even begin to list, but here are two examples:

God said (somewhat contracted for emphasis ), “Don’t eat pork … therefore you should be holy for I am holy.”  (Levitcus 11 and Deuteronomy 14).   As Balaam only reported the first part of what God said, so people only report the “Don’t eat pork.”

The blessing is deliberately left off to make it easier to disregard the command in favor of the immediate rewards of the world (eating anything we want), just as Balaam didn’t say that Israel was to be blessed as he was looking for rewards from Balak.

Another example is this, “Don’t store up treasures for yourself… for where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”  (Matthew6:19-24).  All of us make excuses why we can’t give to charities or the poor.  We remember only the command “don’t store up treasures for yourself” and disregard it in favor of immediate “rewards”, forgetting the blessing that would come (in this case, our heart being in heaven).

So it comes down to this.  Yeshua (Jesus) never said that following God wouldn’t require hard choices.  Rather he said the opposite with such as the words, “take up your cross daily and follow me.”

It is making those hard choices that refine us into the holy people we are to be.  Choosing to follow His word, even when it goes against what we want to do, or what everyone around us is doing, refines us to be the set apart (holy) people God wants us to be.

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The Bronze Serpent – Numbers 21

This weeks reading includes Numbers 21, where we find the Israelites again complaining about food, water, and even the manna God continuously gives them!  God says, ‘enough is enough’ and gave them something to really complain about: serpents whose bite was fatal.

After Moses prayed, the LORD had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole where anyone could look at it.  And anyone who was bitten, and didn’t want to die, could look at the serpent on the pole and be healed.

One of the surprising things about this story comes much, much later.  In fact, several hundred years (give or take) later.   Long after this event, when Israel has been in the land for a long time, and there are kings over Israel, we find King Hezekiah reigning, and we are told that ‘he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.’ (2 Kings 18:1-4).  One of the things King Hezekiah did was to destroy the serpent.  Yes, it was still there!  And over time, it had become an object of worship to the Israelites.  A blessing of God had been turned into a snare!  How could this have happened?  Yet we see the same sort of thing today in our churches and synagogues.

Over time, we take God’s silence about something as an indirect approval. 

God never told them not to keep the serpent after it had served its purpose, and no one, not a single leader prior, ever mentioned it.  After all, it was God ordained, wasn’t it?

In the same way, we take teachings and traditions that may or may not have made sense at the time of their authorship, and over time, incorporate them into our worship, even though God’s word may speak against such practices.  This practice is ripe throughout Christianity and Judaism.  Christianity takes away from God’s word as Judaism adds to it, yet we find God saying, “do not add to or take away from my Word”  (Deut. 4:2, echoed by Yeshua (Jesus) in Matt. 5:18-19).

In the same way, we can easily become insensitive to God’s blessing and even dislike it (the manna in the story).  This should not be!  That is why God tells us to remember His works.  Over and over He tells us (even in the “10 commandments” – Exo. 20:8-11 as one example).  That is why He gave us His calendar (see Lev. 23), which, unfortunately, Christianity has completely thrown out.  This led, among other things, to modern Christianity’s focus only on the here and now, and sometimes the future.

To sum up, we need to always be willing to judge our own actions, traditions, and teachings by the word of God, and to be willing to change when we see something that isn’t in line with His word, even if goes against a centuries old teaching or tradition!

That God hasn’t judged all that we do that is against His word, and often even done “in His name,” is a wonderful manifestation of His grace and forgiveness through Yeshua.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t follow His word.

  • Yosef

 

 

 

 

Numbers 16 – Korah’s Rebellion

In Numbers chapter 16 we find Korah, a Levite, and a number of other leaders of the people of Israel, rising up and challenging Moses.

God had already ordained how the Israelite society was to run, and had given specific jobs to the Levites and to the priests (who were also Levites, but descendants of Aaron).  Korah and those others thought that they should have more responsibility as they regarded themselves as also “chosen”, though they veiled their complaint by saying that the entire community was holy (set apart to God) and therefore all should have more privileges in drawing near to the tabernacle.

It’s interesting to note God’s response.  He had every one of them bring a censor to burn before the LORD.  At first, this doesn’t sound odd as burning incense before the LORD is one of the things that is done in worship (service) to God.  Numbers 16:49 reminds us, however, that no one other then the priests are to do so.  Korah and the others knew this, yet they figured that should also be allowed to serve God in that way anyway.  They wanted to choose themselves.  If they had paid attention to God’s words, they would not (hopefully) have done what they did.

This isn’t the only place in scripture where God apparently tests people by asking them to do something against His word.  In the other three places I can think of, though, the situation was not people rebelling against God, but person’s following God, and He asks them to do something odd anyway.  The three situations I can think of are:

Abraham was asked to offer up Isaac.  Human sacrifice is abominable to God yet he asked Abraham to do so.  Interestingly, Abraham was about to do just that, but God did not allow it as that would have been an anathema to Him.  In this instance though, Abraham never questioned why God was asking Him to do something abominable.  He just started to do it.

The next situation is God asking Ezekiel to bake bread on human dung.  Ezekiel objects and God then says to use cow dung.  This is a very interesting situation and worthy of its own study.

The last situation is known as “Peter’s Vision” where God lets down a sheet full of animals and tells Peter to rise, kill, and eat.  Peter counters that he has never eaten anything unclean.  God goes on to use this incident to make a very powerful lesson to Peter and to us (and that lesson has nothing to do with food!).

Why do I bring up these situations?  Does God really test people?  What do you think?

From the story of Korah we can learn the following.  God is not a reed blown about in the wind depending on human desires and wants.  His way is set and He wants us to follow it.  I know many Christians will counter that “we are under grace, not law.”  But does freedom truly mean that we can do things as we see fit, as long as we say “the Spirit showed me” or add “in Jesus’ name” to it?  I find the story of Korah a strong caution against such rationalizations.  Of course we need to be led by the Spirit of the living God, but Korah and his group were using a similar comment (saying all were holy) to justify their actions.  Korah did not fool God, and neither can we when we try to go against His word by using “Jesus” as a justification.

  • Yosef