Week 10, March 7-11
Confession should be a regular practice of the Christian. In the Old Testament, confession was more than admitting fault, either to God or to the offended person. Confession also required repayment, or restitution. If the debt could no longer be paid to an individual, the same amount would go to the priests in the temple. There were no loopholes for righting a wrong. We can learn a lot about repentance from Old Testament writings on confession and restitution.
Adultery was as common in Moses’ day as it is in ours. Punishments for adultery depended on a variety of circumstances. If a husband believes his wife has been unfaithful, there were protocols to protect her if she was innocent. The extended ritual of Numbers 5 is one example. If she is innocent, the ritual will be ineffective. She will be proven innocent and will conceive more children through her husband. If she was guilty, she suffered physically for her sin. Note: there were other passages dealing with a man’s infidelity; they were not off the hook.
The Nazirite vow is interesting because it shows up throughout both testaments. Samson, for instance held a Nazirite vow all of life. The apostle Paul seems to have taken a short-term Nazirite vow. The purpose was to set aside yourself to the Lord for whatever purposes he might have for you. It was a special kind of cleanliness. The vow involved avoiding anything fermented or grown on the grapevine. He could not shave his head. He could not touch a dead body. The vow ended with a special sacrifice and shaving his head. The whole idea was that a person felt compelled to devote himself to the Lord for a specific purpose or time. It was a vow, and breaking it involved severe consequences. Think of what happened to Samson for an example.
The tabernacle is finally finished, and it is time to consecrate it for its purpose. The dedication ceremony took place over the course of twelve days, likely one day for each tribe of Israel. There were all sorts of twelves throughout the ceremony. The tabernacle was where God’s presence would specially dwell. As Moses approached the tent, he heard God’s voice from above the ark, from the mercy seat.
God told Moses from the mercy seat to set up the seven lamp stands. Remember, the tabernacle is a picture of the perfect state of Eden when God dwelt among Adam and Eve in complete peace. The lamp stand is designed to resemble a tree, such as the tree of life from which our first parents were guarded from eating. But now, God has made a way of being in his presence. The gold and the details of blossoming buds are all reminiscent of how things once were and how things will be again.
Chapter 9 would be the first Passover celebration. One of the stipulations for celebrating the Passover was that you must be ceremonially clean, part of which meant not touching a dead body. Some of the people had recently done so and would not be clean in time to celebrate. In order to keep the Passover, God permitted those who were unclean to celebrate the Passover one month late. It was not intended to be a loophole but a means of dealing with the reality that someone might be unclean too soon to the festival to participate. This was the passage that, in my mind, permitted the church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in our homes on Good Friday during the beginning months of the pandemic. The logic was similar. It was a temporary, extreme circumstance. It is not to be the normal way of celebrating. Communion is something the church does, wait for it, in community.
The cloud, which symbolized the presence of God, descended on the tabernacle. Once the presence moved, the people picked up the tabernacle and moved with God. The trumpets alerted the people that they were about to move. The first move happens as the people leave the wilderness of Sinai.
The people set out and immediately begin complaining. They have been rescued from slavery, seen miracle after miracle, built the ark and a tabernacle for God, and they have even seen his glory fall in their camp. And what do they miss? The food they ate in Egypt. Moses is so fed up that he wants to die. He’s angry at the people, and he’s angry at God for having him deal with the incessant griping. To help Moses, God permits Moses to appoint 70 elders to help with the workload.
There is an interesting scene where Miriam and Aaron want some of Moses’ glory. The bottom line is that God has not anointed them as prophets like he did with Moses. It seems as if Miriam is the ringleader in the cabal against Moses, and she is chastised by God with temporary leprosy. She will be healed, but she will also understand that she is not Moses.
As the people are about to go into the promised land, Moses sends twelve spies in to get a sense of strategy. They have God’s assurance, but that does not therefore mean they can just waltz in and command the people to bend the knee. Caleb, and later we find out that Joshua, are the only two of the twelve that are not frightened by what they see, namely, the sons of Anak, whom they call the Nephilim.
Now before we go all midnight-on-the-History-Channel, let’s be clear about what the text says in reference to the Nephilim. When they are mentioned in Genesis 6, we saw how Scripture always uses the phrase “sons of God” when referring to angelic beings. The Nephilim were the offspring of angels and human women. But, they were wiped out during the flood. The Anakim are part of the tribe of Rephaim who live in Canaan. Deuteronomy 3 says that the king of the Rephaim, King Og, had a 13-foot-long bed. He was no shorty. Joshua 11 says that some of the Anakim were left in Gath after the Israelites wiped them out of Israel. And who would be an inhabitant of Gath but the most famous giant in the Bible, the mighty Goliath himself. It stands to reason that calling these naturally oversized people Nephilim was hyperbole. There are a few theories as to why these people were 8-10” tall, but that’s beyond the scope of this little blog post.
Divorce, children, rich young ruler, foretell death a third time, James and John, blind Bart, triumphal entry, fig tree, cleansing the temple, authority questioned, parable of tenants, taxes, Sadducees and the resurrection, great commandment, David and the Christ, beware of scribes, widow’s offering.
Jesus continues to teach, now about divorce. Jesus does not offer anything new, but he is correcting Pharisaical convictions about the practice. The problem of the Pharisees is their selective teaching on divorce. Instead of having a whole-Bible approach to any particular issue, the Pharisees decided to pick-and-choose to suit their wishes. Instead of quoting an Old Testament passage that directly addressed divorce, Jesus went back to creation to show how God’s intention clearly preceded the law. If we extend this beyond divorce, then any issue concerning marriage should ultimately have the pattern given to us at creation as its main reference point.
Jesus urges children to worship him. Only those who look to Christ with simple faith will inherit the kingdom of God. The story of the rich young ruler follows this interaction, so we should not read them as isolated events. Jesus says that child-like is required for entrance into the kingdom, and what is the young man using to try as his key to enter in? His own works! So when Jesus then says how difficult it is to enter the kingdom, we should not be surprised that those who attempt to work their way in are dismayed.
Many of the healings and teachings are clear enough. As Jesus is entering Jerusalem, he does so in a way that makes a reader of the Old Testament perk up. He is acting out Zechariah 9 by riding in on a colt. In Zechariah 9, the enemies will be stripped of their power, the messiah will enter Jerusalem, and the people will be saved. By coming to Jerusalem to die, Jesus is doing exactly that.
As he enters again on the following day, he curses the fig tree, which was a symbol of religious authority. The Jewish age is coming to an end, and Jesus pronounces that in metaphor. This is immediately followed by the cleansing of the temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the cleaning in the same place: the end of his ministry. John, however, places it early. It’s not a discrepancy, because John is organizing his gospel for his own purposes. Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7 as he turns the tables. This is the final straw for the priests. Jesus must die.
Selling in the temple was not sinful. As people made long journeys to make their sacrifices, many would have rather purchased their sacrificial animals in Jerusalem to ease the burden. The temple tax would require a customs exchange. None of this was unlawful. Pigeons, though, were for the poorest of the poor. These people were extortionists, not worshipers. When the priests confront him about why his has done this, he corners them on John the Baptist. If they can explain why they rejected John, then he’ll explain why he turned the tables.
By way of reminder, the parables are always about the kingdom of God. The parable of the tenants teaches that the Jews are not in the kingdom by virtue of being a part of ethnic Israel. The apostle Paul would later say as much, when he says the not all born in Israel are actually Israel (Romans 9:6).
The leaders need a good reason to trap Jesus, so they incorporate politics and taxes. Jesus does not play in to their games, and actually undermines their power. Jesus says to pay your taxes, but more importantly, give your rightful sacrifices to God.
If undermining distorted readings of Scripture is a theme for Jesus’ ministry, then it makes sense of why the interaction with the Sadducees is next. The Sadducees were well-known for rejecting traditional readings of Scripture, which resulted in a rejection of most supernatural beliefs. Naturalists believe that everything in the universe can be explained by what is already in the universe. Supernaturalists believe that there are truths that can only be explained by forces outside of the known universe. Christians, with several caveats, would fall in the supernaturalist category. The Sadducees reject the resurrection because it would require a supernatural explanation. But Jesus turns again to Scripture to show that supernatural explanations are well within the belief in a transcendent God.
This interaction leads to another. A scribe is surprised at Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, so he asks Jesus about the greatest commandment. This was a regular question posed to well-respected rabbis of Jesus’ day. It functioned like a litmus test for how a teacher interpreted the rest of Scripture. There were some pretty standard answers, which Jesus gives. In sum, the greatest commandment is actually two: love God, love neighbor. It’s easy to see how the 10 commandments, which function like the preamble to the entire law, can be divided into two section, one on loving God and the rest on loving people. Therefore, we must be told what love is, or else we will turn to either sentimentalism or some other distortion of real love.
The most oft-quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament is Psalm 110. Jesus quotes it when he is teaching in the temple. He then give some extended teaching on how even King David looked forward to a Messiah who would be one of his descendants. The point of the law is to direct our hope toward God’s promises. Instead, the scribes twist the law to point to their own righteousness. Jesus warns the people about being drawn to their displays, which distract you from God.
Psalm 46: God is our strong protector.
Psalm 47: God is the God of all nations.
Psalm 48: God’s city is eternal.
Psalm 49: God cares for me in my trouble.
Psalm 50: God is the righteous judge of all people.
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