Beyond the regular sacrifices, there were a goodly number of offerings that people could make for a variety of reasons. This also ensured that there were continual sacrifices taking place in the tabernacle or later in the temple. A lamb would be slaughtered every day and on every Sabbath. Multiple animals were sacrificed throughout the month. Every holy day had its own set of sacrifices. The Feast of Booths by far had the most amount of animal sacrifices. Many animals were sacrificed, but there were well over 1000 lambs sacrificed alone.
God takes truth quite seriously, and everything his people say should be true. Therefore, he takes vows quite seriously. God’s people do not lie. Men and women were given different particulars for rules concerning vows, but the point was the same: do not commit yourself to anything you do not intend to carry out. Fathers guarded their young daughters from making hasty vows, and husbands, who were the heads of the homes, could annul his wife’s vow if it proved impossible to keep or cost too much, for example. Basically, young girls and wives were guarded from the consequences of hasty vows, but they were not kept from making them in general.
In Numbers 25, Midian had tricked many of the Israelites into idolatry. It has resulted in this battle. Phinehas was the son of the high priest, so he went out among the soldiers in his father’s stead. This prevented the high priest from being ceremonially unclean when around any fallen soldiers. As awful as it may sound, the Midianite women were guilty of idolatry and bringing the Israelites along for the ride. So, they were not spared from the invasion.
When the army returned, a quick headcount proved that not a single Israelite soldier had died in battle. The plunder taken by the soldiers was turned over to the priests to be used to make honorable vessels for the tabernacle.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad decide that the land in which they want to settle actually lies outside of where the rest of the tribes will settle. They land they want is west of the Jordan river, so the Jordan would separate these tribes from the rest. Is this a problem?
Though it comes as a shock to Moses, it is not unreasonable. The promise made to Abraham was that he would have as many descendants as there is sand on the shore. Paul says is Romans 4:13 that Abraham knew he would one day inherit the whole world. So there is no theological issue with some tribes settling apart from the others.
Moses recounts for the people the journey they took to get to the ends of the promised land. Remembering the history of God’s activity among his people is a common yet critical component of the Christian life. We do not have a “fidiest” faith, or blind faith. We can look back and see God’s hand, which prompts us to faithfulness in the present and the future.
God then gives Moses the boundaries for the land they will initially occupy. This should not be thought of as a final boundary. Throughout the time of the monarchy, up until the exile, the land possessed by the Israelites would wax and wain depending on their faithfulness. When a foreign power took control, Israel would lose land. Especially after the exile, the arrangement of the land look completely different.
The promise to Abraham included, ultimately, the whole world. Paul made this claim in Romans 4:13. So changing boundary lines should not surprise us, and we should not think that the limits placed on the land in Numbers 34 are final. We should also make sure that when we read about the promises made to Israel concerning the land that we recognize they are fulfilled in Christ and the church. Yes, there is absolutely a future to ethnic Israel in the millennial kingdom; otherwise, Romans 11 is unintelligible or has to be spiritualized away. But when Paul says that all of God’s promises find their fulfillment in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), he truly means all.
Part of the boundaries include cities for the Levitical priests. Priests were not to have their own land inheritance but would live off of the tithes and offerings from the people. That would be their portion. When in came to their dwellings, instead of having their own tribal allotments, they would have cities within the various tribes. The priests would be spread throughout the nation. There would be forty-eight total cities for the priests, and six of those would be shared as sanctuary cities.
You’ll recall that in Numbers 27, the daughters of Zelophehad went to Moses to say that without fathers or brothers, they would have nowhere to live if they did not receive their father’s inheritance. So, consulting with the Lord, Moses said that they should inherit what a son typically would. The issue was not that women were bad at inheriting land, which is ridiculous, but that inheritance through the patriarchs ensured no fighting about who owned what land.
This is precisely the issue that is addressed in Numbers 36. If the women married men from other tribes, how would land be distributed upon someone’s death? To guard against imminent feuding, Moses said that the daughters of Zelophehad could only marry men within their tribe. That way, at the year of jubilee when land went back to its original owner, there would be no bickering between tribes about inheritance.
Deuteronomy is either one sermon or a series of sermons Moses gave in Moab before the people officially enter the promised land. The introduction of the sermon is another historical account of God’s benevolent activity among the people. Three chapters are devoted entirely to the history between the exodus and arriving in Moab. We must be people that remember!
Moses begin to reiterate the importance of obedience to the law. The law is a part of the covenant between God and the nation of Israel, and with the law comes blessings and curses. He spends considerable amount of time forbidding idolatry, of which they have been guilty several times already. And idolatry will be their undoing. It will be because of idolatry that after the nation splits into two kingdoms that they both are taken into exile.
Each of the four gospels begin in their own way for their own purposes. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus, Mark begins with John as an adult, Luke begins with John’s parents, and John begins with an extended theological statement about the eternal Word.
If I were to recommend a gospel to really understand who Jesus is, I would recommend Luke. Luke was a gentile, so he writes from a gentile perspective. He includes plenty of Jewish information, because it’s necessary, but he also explains it. He makes note of how his writing is informed by eyewitness testimony and his own investigation. Luke interprets Jesus’s life as he writes about it.
He begins by recounting how John the Baptist was born. He must begin before the birth of Jesus, because God’s plan has been at work long before. John will be a prophet, which is exciting for the Jew who has waited for 400 years since the last prophet. This means that God is active and has not abandoned his people, no matter what comes next.
Zechariah and Elizabeth are elderly, simply meaning beyond the normal child-bearing years. Zechariah is a priest, and during his regular service he is confronted by an angel of the Lord. The angel tells him that his prayer for a child has been heard, and it will be answered. This child will be used mightily by God in calling his people to repentance, the common work of a prophet. His ministry will be marked by preparing the people for the coming of the messiah.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent to the virgin Mary. Mary is frightened, but she is ready to be obedient. Here virginity is actually quite important. Some have argued that the Old Testament word simply means a young woman. Context, however, makes that unlikely. While that word has a wide range of meaning between “virgin” and “young woman”, the Greek word that Luke uses definitely means “virgin”. It could even be used for men who were virgins. So, “young woman” is definitely not what the author or the Spirit intends. Mary’s virginity becomes even clearer when she asks the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” It would make no sense for Mary to ask how she could be pregnant just because she’s a young woman. Who else can get pregnant? It’s a sign rightly because she is a virgin.
The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is close but uncertain. They could have very well been aunt and niece, or maybe even cousins with a considerable age difference. So John and Jesus will have some kind of family relation, likely cousins.
Mary’s song has been called her Magnificat. She focuses her song on the mercy and greatness of God, not on herself. If Mary is a leader in anything, it is in right worship of God.
When John is born, Zechariah is inspired to prophecy. He praises God for what he has done and what he will do through his son. John will remind people that God’s promises are sure, and one who sits on David’s throne is close at hand.
After John is born, Joseph and Mary are forced to Bethlehem for a census. Some historians have taken issue with Luke’s dating and mention of a census brought during the time of Quirinius. Archaeological evidence has shown a census by Quirinius, but it is several years later. Several options are available to square what Luke writes with extrabiblical sources. The most convincing is that the phrase “when Quirinius was governor” could just as well be translated “before Quirinius was governor”. It’s a matter of which subordinating conjunction properly is best in context, because “when” is not in the original text. Some conjunction must be assumed when the phrase is translated into English.
Luke tells the story quickly. He spends more time on the various travels the family makes. Thousands (multitude) of angels announce to the shepherds nearby that Christ the Lord is born. They are to visit him immediately and tell Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them, namely that this child will be for the salvation of all peoples.
In keeping with the law, Jesus is presented at the temple on the eighth day. Mary and Joseph offer their sacrifices. This time is when Simeon and Anna get to see the Christ child. More and more people are assured that this child is the promised Messiah of God.
Luke skips twelve years of Jesus’s childhood. The reasons are not clear, but we should not worry that there are truths we do not know for which we are responsible for knowing. There were attempts in later centuries to create fantastic tales about Christ’s upbringing that the gospels do not give. One such fabrication is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The earliest copies we have of this is from the sixth century, and no serious Christian has ever accepted it as remotely true. It’s quite short. In one section, Jesus is five-years-old and fashions twelve sparrows from clay. When he is questioned about why he did this on the Sabbath, he claps his hands and they come to life and fly away. Then, another child bumps shoulders with Jesus as he’s running, and Jesus curses the boy to die. You know, typical Jesus-stuff.
But anyway, while at the temple, Jesus is asking the teachers questions. Asking questions was a common form of teaching, so it might be that what astonishes the teachers is how much this child already understands. One common question is if Jesus knew, or when he knew, what obedience to the law of God would get him. Or, when did Jesus know that he would die for the sins of the world? That seems like an awful lot to expect a twelve-year-old to carry. Whatever Jesus knew and when, he knew before age twelve that God was his Father. He knew what he meant, but his parents did not. By Luke pointing out that contrast, it seems that Jesus knows more than we might expect.
Luke goes to great lengths to date exactly when John began his ministry. John was a traveling preacher who called the people to repentance. He would baptize people upon repentance, not before. John didn’t baptize babies.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, not of the proper genealogy. It is not a kingdom of good behavior. When people came to John to be baptized who were living as the pagans do, he knew that what they wanted was easy access to good living in God’s kingdom. The wrath of God was indeed coming, and no one could flee from it. It was inevitable. And an outward rite of baptism would do nothing to save you from it. What John demanded was repentance, followed by the image of death to self and resurrected life through baptism.
So why was Jesus baptized? What did he repent of? In the same way that Jesus died on behalf of his people, Jesus repents on behalf of his people, of which baptism is the sign. The Holy Spirit descends on him, and the Father speaks. As a man, Christ lived in the power of the Spirit, just as we do.
Luke is definitely a gospel for everyone, Jew and gentile alike. Instead of focusing on the Jewish nature of Jesus’s family line, Luke goes all the way back to creation. He shows that Jesus is the savior of all people, since he descends from the same two parents that we do.
Psalm 56: God is to be trusted.
Psalm 57: God will save the faithful from their enemies.
Psalm 58: Vengeance belongs to the Lord.
Psalm 59: God’s strength protects his people.
Psalm 60: God both judges and saves his people.