Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Vows

Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the LORD has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

“If a woman vows a vow to the LORD and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the LORD will forgive her, because her father opposed her.

“If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand.  But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the LORD will forgive her. (But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.) And if she vowed in her husband’s house or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, and her husband heard of it and said nothing to her and did not oppose her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand…”

These are the statutes that the LORD commanded Moses about a man and his wife and about a father and his daughter while she is in her youth within her father’s house.  (Numbers 30 ESV)

The ESV Study Bible note on this text is helpful:

The placement of this law here may seem surprising, but there are several reasons why it should come here. Vows are mentioned in 29:39, and they are often involved in the offering of a sacrifice. Also, war often prompts vows, and Israel is about to start its military campaign in Canaan. In addition, the conquest of Canaan depends on God keeping his promised word to Israel, and Israel must be equally strict in carrying out her promises to God.

As to the ability of a father or husband to contradict his daughter’s or wife’s oath, we are probably dealing with ignorance about culture.  Likely a major factor is that the authority and responsibility for the family is invested in the man.  If he deems the vow to be one that could hurt his daughter or wife or his household he is responsible to counter it and Yahweh is fine with that.  But this would not explain why no similar mention is made of a son who makes a vow.  And it cannot be a matter of women being somehow incapable of making proper vows since widows and divorced women are in no way restricted concerning vows and men have obviously made some pretty foolish vows (Judges 11:30,31; 1 Samuel 14:24).

In any case, Moses is urging caution about making a vow because of how wrong it is to not fulfill it.  Jesus, indeed, urges his disciples to refrain from oaths.  Too many people use vows or oaths as a means of disciplining themselves against sin, but this is a very inadequate, in fact improper and ineffective, way to maintain self-control.  It is not the way of the cross.  Obedience and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and comes from intimate relationship with Jesus, where we begin to take on his likeness, and from the help of the community and its accountability.

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: God Provides Atonement

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’ And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil. It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the LORD. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight. Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

“On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering: this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.

“At the beginnings of your months, you shall offer a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish; also three tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for each bull, and two tenths of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for the one ram; and a tenth of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering for every lamb; for a burnt offering with a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull, a third of a hin for a ram, and a quarter of a hin for a lamb. This is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. Also one male goat for a sin offering to the LORD; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.  Also one male goat for a sin offering to the LORD; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.

“On the fourteenth day of the first month is the LORD’s Passover, and on the fifteenth day of this month is a feast. Seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, but offer a food offering, a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls from the herd, one ram, and seven male lambs a year old; see that they are without blemish; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil; three tenths of an ephah shall you offer for a bull, and two tenths for a ram; a tenth shall you offer for each of the seven lambs; also one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you. You shall offer these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is for a regular burnt offering. In the same way you shall offer daily, for seven days, the food of a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. It shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work.

“On the day of the firstfruits, when you offer a grain offering of new grain to the LORD at your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, but offer a burnt offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for each bull, two tenths for one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs; with one male goat, to make atonement for you. Besides the regular burnt offering and its grain offering, you shall offer them and their drink offering. See that they are without blemish.  (Numbers 28, 29 ESV)

When they conquer the land there will be requirements for daily offerings/sacrifices, weekly ones on the Sabbath, monthly ones on the first of the month, and additional ones on holy days like Passover and the Feast of Weeks.  The holy days also serve as Sabbaths with no work being done, except by the priests and Levites who are offering the sacrifices.

The sheer number of animals, grain and wine that must be offered is an indication of the prosperity Yahweh is going to give Israel in the land.  The necessity of the offerings is an indicator that Yahweh is a holy God and despite our rebellious hearts has made a way for us to have relationship with Him.  He wants relationship with us.  He won’t compromise on our attitudes and behavior, but He wants us to know Him and have an intimate relationship with Him.  This can only be accomplished through atonement and He provides the atonement.  What an anticipation of Jesus’ sacrifice!

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Leadership Succession

The LORD said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)

Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey.  And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.” And Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the LORD directed through Moses.  (Numbers 27:12-23 ESV)

Moses is not allowed to go into Canaan because he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, a violation of Yahweh’s holy symbol of Messiah’s’ two comings.  But Moses is concerned about a transition of authority and requests that Yahweh choose someone, which, of course, He already has.  This shows the humility of Moses.  He is more concerned about the people than about his own leadership reputation.

But besides just being able to report to the people that Yahweh has chosen Joshua, Yahweh tells Moses to also have Joshua appear before the high priest, Eleazar, and use the Urim to demonstrate that Joshua is His choice.  We don’t know exactly how this stone, in conjunction perhaps with the other stone, the Thummim, was used by the high priest to hear from God.  But Yahweh wants the people to be absolutely convinced that Joshua is His choice.

Joshua has been in training all these years as Moses assistant and leader of God’s army.  He has faith and competence and a proven track record, essentials of a good leader.  We need leaders and God is concerned to provide them.  Good leaders know that they are but one in a succession of leaders God wants to use to bless His people.  And so they are also in the business of developing leaders.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Seeing As God Sees

Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”

Moses brought their case before the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers.  And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the LORD commanded Moses.’”  (Numbers 27:1-11 ESV)

As the people once again near conquering Canaan the issue of who gets land is paramount.  A case comes up of a family with only daughters, no sons, and they assertively ask Moses to make a judgment in their favor for the land to remain with them for their father’s name.

Moses does not immediately answer no, as if he knows the answer, but takes it to Yahweh who rules in favor of Zelophadad’s daughters and Yahweh also gives further instructions for other contingencies.  Yahweh is fair and wise and does not discriminate against women, showing us that some of our culture is at odds with His justice.

It is fascinating that Zelophadad’s daughters had no doubt that Israel was going to conquer Canaan and that the land allotted would indeed be awarded to the tribe of Manasseh.  The land distribution is a done deal in their minds and the reality of that is what prompts their request.  Oh for more of their number who see what God has promised and claim it.

God is not in the business of granting wishes.  God is in the business of raising the dead, not all of whom are willing.  There is nothing wrong with letting God know what we want, as long as we do not mistake our list for the covenant.  The covenant has no conditions.  The covenant is no deal.  It is God’s promise to be our God, which contains within it the promise that we shall be God’s people – not by our consent but by our creation.  (Barbara Brown Taylor in The Ladder of Divine Ascent)

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Your Bigger Purpose

After the plague, the LORD said to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron, the priest, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ houses, all in Israel who are able to go to war.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Take a census of the people, from twenty years old and upward,” as the LORD commanded Moses. The people of Israel who came out of the land of Egypt were:…

This was the list of the people of Israel, 601,730.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance in proportion to its list. But the land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. Their inheritance shall be divided according to lot between the larger and the smaller.”

This was the list of the Levites according to their clans:…

And those listed were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward. For they were not listed among the people of Israel, because there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.

These were those listed by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who listed the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.” Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.  (Numbers 26:1-65 ESV)

After 40 years in the wilderness all the previous generation who rebelled and refused to go in and fight against the Canaanites have died.  But when God tells Moses to number the current generation, it numbers nearly the same as that previous generation.  The numerical strength of Israel’s army has not decreased.

The numbering also determines who will get the bigger portions of land in Canaan.  That will be dependent on tribe size.  The Levites, of course, will not get land allotments but will live off of the tithe of the other tribes.

Two men from the previous generation remain a part of this army, Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who wanted to obey Yahweh and take the land.  They will get their chance this go round.  God will use those who trust and obey Him.

Are you a Joshua and Caleb or more like one of those who perished in the wilderness?  Will you trust God when He directs you in your life?  Will you even look to Him for what He wants your life to be about?  He wants to use you for His greater purposes.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: God’s Justice

And the LORD said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”

The name of the slain man of Israel, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, chief of a father’s house belonging to the Simeonites. And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the tribal head of a father’s house in Midian.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.”  (Numbers 25:10-18 ESV)

Yahweh has seen His people slip quite easily into idolatry, into spiritual adultery.  But He has also seen an example in Phinehas of great love and devotion, and this assuages His anger and jealousy, and He rewards Phinehas with perpetual priesthood.  Godly courage and devotion will always be noted by God and honored.

Yahweh is jealous in the right sense of that word.  He knows how deeply Israel needs Him and that worship of Him is what blesses them, so He is rightly concerned when they worship one who really is no god but rather a demonic representation of a deity.  This will lead to their destruction.  Our jealousies also speak to how concerned we are for the good of the one we love.

So Yahweh directs Moses to harass the Midianites.  This does not sound like out and out war, but it is a way of repaying Midian for their evil strategy. The Midianites must be discouraged from further harassment of Israel.  God knows how to deal with our enemies.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Equally Yoked

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”

And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.  (Numbers 25:1-9 ESV)

Whereas the king of Moab cannot get Balaam to bring God’s curse down on Israel, Israel brings down His curse by their willingness to enter into sexual and spiritual relationship with the women of Moab and Midian.  They allow their relationships with these women to influence their worship, bowing down to and bonding themselves to Baal.  There were many versions of Baal worship, local or national versions, but they all involved re-enacting the fertilization of the earth by Baal.  The sexual act was part of Baal worship.

This apostasy is so heinous that the punishment is death and public exposure by hanging the dead body on a pike.  Phinehas understands the seriousness of the rebellion and kills an Israeli man in the act of taking a Midianite woman in marriage.  This stops Yahweh’s plague but still many are killed.  This was a wide scale abandonment of Yahweh.

God has big visions for us but we must stay in obedience to realize them.  And that includes having our most intimate relationships be with those who also follow Christ and not yielding to the influence of the ungodly.  As the apostle Paul said,

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.   Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,  and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18, ESV)