Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Holy Communion

And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules you shall keep it.” So Moses told the people of Israel that they should keep the Passover. And they kept the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so the people of Israel did. And there were certain men who were unclean through touching a dead body, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day, and they came before Moses and Aaron on that day. And those men said to him, “We are unclean through touching a dead body. Why are we kept from bringing the LORD’s offering at its appointed time among the people of Israel?” And Moses said to them, “Wait, that I may hear what the LORD will command concerning you.”

   The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If any one of you or of your descendants is unclean through touching a dead body, or is on a long journey, he shall still keep the Passover to the LORD.  In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight they shall keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it. But if anyone who is clean and is not on a journey fails to keep the Passover, that person shall be cut off from his people because he did not bring the LORD’s offering at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin. And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native.”  (Numbers 9:1-14 ESV)

One of the holy festivals Yahweh gave to Israel to observe was Passover, a remembrance of the day God sent a death upon the firstborn of Egypt.  But the Israelites sacrificed and ate a lamb and spread its blood on their doorposts so that the death passed over them and they were spared (Exodus 12).  By this means God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  Pharaoh let them leave.

Now they observe it after traveling in the wilderness for a year, but He makes provision for an alternate observance for those who are unclean or out of the country (in the future) during the festival.  The fourteenth day of the second month of the year they must observe it, presuming that they will be clean again by this time.  Failure to keep the Passover when you are able is a capital offense.  Non-Jews who live among Israel in years to come, and who desire to participate in Passover, may do so.

Passover was a sacred symbol of humanity’s deserving of death and yet God’s provision of a just way to escape death through sacrifice of a substitute in our place.  Jesus is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John  1:29).  We celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ Passover supper with his apostles, as the commemoration of our deliverance.

We are not under the same rule in regard to celebrating the Lord’s Supper as Israel was to celebrate the Passover.  Indeed, Paul urges the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11), who are inappropriately observing the Lord’s Supper, to desist and eat at home if they cannot properly observe it in the church.  Of course, the preferred approach is to observe it correctly in the meeting of the church.  To contradict its intended purpose is to court God’s discipline, which may include death (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).

ACCORDING TO PAUL, it was not truly the Lord’s Supper unless everyone from any social status ate it together, signifying equal inclusion. Bread and wine eaten in the context of a full meal also symbolize care for the poor, for when all eat together, there are no needy.

Reta Halteman Finger, “An Instinct for Community”


Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Success God’s Way

Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” And Aaron did so: he set up its lamps in front of the lampstand, as the LORD commanded Moses. And this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold. From its base to its flowers, it was hammered work; according to the pattern that the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.

   And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them go with a razor over all their body, and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves. Then let them take a bull from the herd and its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and you shall take another bull from the herd for a sin offering. And you shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the whole congregation of the people of Israel. When you bring the Levites before the LORD, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the LORD. Then the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, and you shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the LORD to make atonement for the Levites. And you shall set the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and shall offer them as a wave offering to the LORD.

   “Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. And after that the Levites shall go in to serve at the tent of meeting, when you have cleansed them and offered them as a wave offering. For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself. For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel. And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.”

  Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the people of Israel…

   And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.”  (Numbers 8:1-26 ESV)

Still preparing the camp for war, Yahweh reminds the people that the golden lampstand that sits in the first chamber of the tabernacle, the Holy Place, sheds the light in the tabernacle.  It makes visible the table of showbread, a table with fresh loaves of bread laid out each day, and the altar of incense, where incense burns continually.  Yahweh is the light of Israel, provides her daily bread, and hears her prayers.

Then Yahweh has Aaron and Moses consecrate the Levites for their duties of caring for the tabernacle.  Shaving all one’s body hair would definitely set one apart, and the Levites are offered as a sacrifice to Yahweh in this ceremony, in place of Israel’s firstborn and as a gift to Aaron and the priests to help them conduct the services of the tabernacle (the sacrifices).

Whereas earlier the Levites were numbered according to those 30-50 years old, from 25 years on they may serve in the tabernacle, perhaps those first 5 years as apprentices.  Then they must cease carrying the tabernacle at age 50, being allowed only at that point to guard it while it is set up.  This is a recognition of the manual labor required in moving the tent.

What this ceremony signifies is that nothing is more important to Israel’s success than a right relationship to God.  This kind of public ceremony focuses Israel on God’s presence among them and His power to give them victory.  It is our own folly that we would ever compromise our relationship with God in order to make “progress.”  Saul will try it later when Samuel is late for offering sacrifice before Israel goes to battle (1 Samuel 13).  David, with somewhat purer heart, will try it with his attempt to move the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6).

We cannot truly go forward without first kneeling before the One from whom all victory comes.

Where they are now:  From the two consecutive entries in the 1988 Class Notes section of the Oberlin Alumni Magazine’s Spring issue.

  • Lizz Frost is the epidemiologist and public health specialist for Doctors Without Borders’ Aral Sea Area program.  She is in Karakalpakstan, in northeastern Uzbekistan, where the Amu Darya River delta has completely dried up.  Lizz writes, “The delta that was once home to flocks of waterfoul, beavers, bears, and wolves is now a desert that can hardly support even a few camels grazing.  I won’t even start to describe the health effects.”  Before coming to the Aral Sea project in July 1997, Lizz was an epidemiologist in Ghana.
  • Brad Pedinoff has a new “tortoise-shell colored cat.”

(Harper’s, August 1998)

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: God’s Sustaining Presence

On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils, the chiefs of Israel, heads of their fathers’ houses, who were the chiefs of the tribes, who were over those who were listed, approached and brought their offerings before the LORD, six wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two of the chiefs, and for each one an ox. They brought them before the tabernacle. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Accept these from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.” So Moses took the wagons and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service. And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder. And the chiefs offered offerings for the dedication of the altar on the day it was anointed; and the chiefs offered their offering before the altar. And the LORD said to Moses, “They shall offer their offerings, one chief each day, for the dedication of the altar.”…

  This was the dedication offering for the altar on the day when it was anointed, from the chiefs of Israel: twelve silver plates, twelve silver basins, twelve golden dishes, each silver plate weighing 130 shekels and each basin 70, all the silver of the vessels 2,400 shekels according to the shekel of the sanctuary, the twelve golden dishes, full of incense, weighing 10 shekels apiece according to the shekel of the sanctuary, all the gold of the dishes being 120 shekels; all the cattle for the burnt offering twelve bulls, twelve rams, twelve male lambs a year old, with their grain offering; and twelve male goats for a sin offering; and all the cattle for the sacrifice of peace offerings twenty-four bulls, the rams sixty, the male goats sixty, the male lambs a year old sixty. This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed.

  And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.  (Numbers 7:1-89 ESV)

To dedicate the tabernacle the tribes of Israel brought carts and bulls for use by two sons of Aaron, Gershon and Merari, because they needed transportation for the components of the tent.  Aaron’s son Kohath could not use a cart because the holy furniture had to be carried on foot by poles resting on their shoulders.

The tribes also brought dishes of gold and silver to be used in the tabernacle and animals to offer in sacrifice to God to dedicate and anoint the altar of sacrifice at the tabernacle.  When Moses received all these things and went into the tent and the most holy place within the tent, Yahweh spoke to him from above the ark of the covenant between the cherubim.  This simulated what occurs in heaven, the tabernacle being a replica of the heavenly temple, and signified that Yahweh was pleased to “dwell” among Israel.

The offerings brought by the chiefs of the tribes were very practical and useful for the ministry of the Tabernacle.  But Moses did not immediately receive them, doing so only after Yahweh had instructed him to do so.  People will make offerings at times with pure motives and at times with impure.  The latter must be watched for.  Enrichment is often a play for influence.  God will have none of that.

We, the Body of Christ, are collectively God’s temple, and individually we are temples of the living God.  When our “temple” is pure and we come in the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice to God’s throne in heaven, like Moses He hears us and is pleased and He makes Himself known to us.  He dwells with us in the person of the Holy Spirit and makes His presence known to us and through us.  Perhaps some of us hear His actual voice, others sense His words in our hearts, still others may receive what He wants us to know in mental pictures.  As we move toward our own Canaans, toward the purposes for which God has redeemed us, we need to know His presence with us.  Nothing less will sustain us.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Telling God We Love Him

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.

“All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD.

“And if any man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. On the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead body. And he shall consecrate his head that same day and separate himself to the LORD for the days of his separation and bring a male lamb a year old for a guilt offering. But the previous period shall be void, because his separation was defiled.

“And this is the law for the Nazirite, when the time of his separation has been completed: he shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and he shall bring his gift to the LORD, one male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, and one ram without blemish as a peace offering, and a basket of unleavened bread, loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and their grain offering and their drink offerings. And the priest shall bring them before the LORD and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering, and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of peace offering to the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread. The priest shall offer also its grain offering and its drink offering.  And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire that is under the sacrifice of the peace offering. And the priest shall take the shoulder of the ram, when it is boiled, and one unleavened loaf out of the basket and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them on the hands of the Nazirite, after he has shaved the hair of his consecration, and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. They are a holy portion for the priest, together with the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed. And after that the Nazirite may drink wine.

“This is the law of the Nazirite. But if he vows an offering to the LORD above his Nazirite vow, as he can afford, in exact accordance with the vow that he takes, then he shall do in addition to the law of the Nazirite.”  (Numbers 6:1-21 ESV)

Continuing to deal with purity in the camp in preparation for war in Canaan, Yahweh makes sure that those who take a temporary vow of devotion to Him, called the Nazarite or the separated one’s vow, did what was required to maintain the integrity of the vow and thus the purity of the camp by following His requirements.  A Nazarite grew his or her hair long and did not cut it throughout the time of the vow, to show their devotion to God and followed some strict dietary rules and kept from touching dead bodies.

But if one inadvertently touched a dead body a cleansing must take place, including shaving of the hair, and the vow restarted and completed for the same length of time the Nazarite stipulated originally.  Then, when the time of the vow was over, the Nazarite was to offer sacrifice and burn his or her hair on the altar.  Any additional vows made must also be kept.

Though every Israelite was to be devoted to Yahweh, the Nazarite vow was a special way to demonstrate that.  Believers today are all to be devoted to Christ, but there may be special disciplines we take upon ourselves at times to demonstrate our devotion to Him (fasting, silence, chastity, etc.).  Doing these things does not make us more holy and are certainly not required.  They are strictly voluntary.  It is going out of our way to tell God we love Him.

Sometimes we think making a vow to God will obligate God to us and so we are tempted to think we can manipulate Him this way or strengthen ourselves in our resolve to live for Him.  These are both mistaken ideas about the vow.  Making a vow to God does not obligate Him to us but us to Him.  And taking a vow to be more holy is not a helpful way of becoming more holy.  We can’t just screw up our intensity and will power to become more holy.  Purity in the camp for us comes from spending quality time with Christ in prayer and communion with Him in His Word.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Power Settings

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, If any man’s wife goes astray and breaks faith with him, if a man lies with her sexually, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her, since she was not taken in the act, and if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself, or if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself, then the man shall bring his wife to the priest and bring the offering required of her…

   “And the priest shall bring her near and set her before the LORD. And the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD and unbind the hair of the woman’s head and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.  Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) ‘the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’

   “Then the priest shall write these curses in a book and wash them off into the water of bitterness. And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain. And the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand and shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar. And the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and burn it on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water.  And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children.

   “This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife. Then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall carry out for her all this law. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”  (Numbers 5:11-31 ESV)

There are times when the purity in the camp cannot be determined except by a trial by ordeal.  In the case of a jealous husband who is suspicious that his wife has been unfaithful, Yahweh gives a test.  If the wife drinks the concoction described here and does not get sick, she is innocent.  Her husband’s jealousy is exposed as unfounded.  He is the uncleanness in the camp, not her.  If she is guilty her womb will swell, her thigh fall away and she will be childless, a consequence of her infidelity.

It may be argued that this was a very male-centric regulation.  What if the woman was suspicious of her husband?  Could she have him drink the potion?  But in another sense this was a protection for the woman.  Mere jealousy on the part of her husband would not justify mistreatment.  This provided a definitive test and protected her from wrongful accusations.

God is concerned for the just treatment of those who are in the position of little or no power.  He does not hold guiltless the one who abuses his power.  We must not abuse the power we have but always use it for the benefit of others, not ourselves.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Restitution

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the LORD, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the LORD for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him. And every contribution, all the holy donations of the people of Israel, which they bring to the priest, shall be his. Each one shall keep his holy donations: whatever anyone gives to the priest shall be his.”  (Numbers 5:5-10 ESV)

Still dealing with holiness in the camp where Yahweh dwells, Yahweh instructs the people that if someone takes someone’s property and lies about it in Yahweh’s name or realizes he was guilty he shall make restitution of the property plus 20 percent, in addition to the guilt offering he presents to Yahweh at the tabernacle.

But, in the case where there is no one to make restitution to, a contribution of the 20 percent must be made to Yahweh by giving it to His priest.  This shows that making things right is just as important for the one making restitution as it is for the neighbor who was wronged.  Our consciences need to be cleared when we have offended both God and man.

It also shows the strong commitment to justice that God has and that He has put in our makeup as humans made in His image.  We know it is not enough to say, “I’m sorry,” but that real change in the way we act toward one another must also accompany our apology.  Repentance should lead to action.

And it is not enough for us to cease sinning a sin.  We must also develop the corresponding righteousness.  Paul uses this example:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28, ESV)

The thief stops being a thief, not when he stops stealing, but when he realizes his belief, that what others own belongs to him, is wrong and works to give to the needs of others.  This is the true shift from wickedness to righteousness.  This is truly dealing justly and a sign of a cleansed conscience.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Clean Up

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” And the people of Israel did so, and put them outside the camp; as the LORD said to Moses, so the people of Israel did.  (Numbers 5:1-4 ESV)

There must be ritual purity in the camp where Yahweh dwells.  He is holy so His people must be holy.  Yet when ritual impurity occurs, such as here in the case of some skin disease, some unusual discharge from the body, or through touching a dead body, a designated time must be spent away from the camp until cleansing is accomplished.  This would be a hard law to obey.  Special tents would need to be erected on the outskirts of the camp where people could go to recover from their uncleanness.  This could be a long term stay if the skin ailment or discharge did not resolve.  Moses tells us that the people obeyed Yahweh in this command.

The implication for us is that whatever defiles us or makes us spiritually unclean must be dealt with radically.  Jesus’ statement, that if your eye offends pluck it out, is along this line.  Do whatever it takes to keep from sin.  Being right in the presence of a holy God is the most expedient of priorities.

The other implication is that we must help others deal radically with their uncleanness.  We have to adopt the inconvenience their uncleanness creates and compassionately help them become clean.  This is a priority that we will be tempted to neglect.  That’s their responsibility, we will think, not ours.  But that is not how God sees it.  He wants to dwell in our camp with blessing and calls on us to deal with what defiles.  We are our brother’s keeper, and, we cannot make progress as a community without seeing to the progress of the individuals within our community.

Our cry should be much the same as those who have filled the ranks of our military:  No man left behind!  We will not abandon our wounded.