October 5, 2015.
Daily Reading: Numbers 17-20.
Background: Numbers 13-16.
Concepts and Connections.
The house of Levi confirmed: In the previous chapter, we saw the rebellion of Korah, which was motivated by jealously of who the Lord had chosen to be concentrated before Him, specifically Moses and Aaron. In this chapter, the Lord wants to confirm before the people that He had chosen Aaron for His service. To do this, He tells Moses to gather a staff from each of the tribes of Israel, one from the head of each of the father’s house, and inscribe their name on it, putting Aaron’s name on the staff from the tribe of Levi. Then he was to take them into the tent of meeting before the testimony, leave them there over night, and the Lord would cause the staff of the man that He had chosen to sprout. The next day, Moses gathered the staffs from the tent of meeting and Aaron’s staff had grown buds, blossoms and ripe almonds. The Lord told Moses to keep the staff of Aaron as a sign for the rebels, that they might end their grumbling. Apparently, Aaron’s staff was placed in the ark of the covenant (see Hebrews 9:4). Then the people cry out to Moses because they cannot stand before the tabernacle of the Lord. The Lord would give them an answer for this in the next chapter, appointing the Levites before Him to minister in the temple.
Duties of priests and Levites: At the end of the previous chapter, we find the children of Israel crying out that they cannot stand before the tabernacle lest they die. Here, the Lord answers their cry and tells Aaron that he and his sons would bear the iniquity of the people connected to the sanctuary and the priesthood, that the other tribes might not come near to the tabernacle and die. Aaron and his sons had been chosen to be priests before the Lord, and the tribe of Levi had been chosen to minister in the service of the tabernacle throughout their generations, as this was their inheritance instead of a land inheritance. The sons of Aaron were given the offerings that the children of Israel made to the Lord, allowing every male to eat it in a most holy place. The contribution of their gift was also given to the sons of Aaron, and everyone clean in their house could eat it. The firstborn, however, were to be redeemed, and their flesh was to be given to the sons of Aaron. The Lord was their portion and inheritance among the people of Israel. The Levites were given the tithes of the children of Israel in return for the service they rendered in the tent of meeting. They were to minister there that the rest of the tribes did not have to come near and die because of their iniquity. From this tithe, the Levites were to take a tithe of the tithe to offer before the Lord, and the rest was to be given to them as their reward for their service. At the end of this chapter, the Levites are warned not to profane the holy things.
Laws for purification: In this chapter, the Lord gives Moses and Aaron various laws for purification. In the beginning, instructions for making the water for impurity is given, noting that a heifer was to be burned with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn and the ashes were to be collected for the water of impurity. It is noteworthy to add here that the ashes used in this process would likely create a type of lye that cleansed and the hyssop and scarlet yarn might be beneficial for scrubbing and physically cleaning the body as opposed to only spiritually cleaning. After the process for creating the water of impurity is described, then laws concerning the touching of a dead body or bones is given. Whoever touched the body of a dead person was to be unclean for seven days, and cleansed with the water for impurity on the third and seventh day. When someone died in a tent, everyone in the tent was to be unclean for seven days, as described previously, and any open vessel in the tent was to be considered unclean. When someone touched a dead body in the field ,or even a human bone or grave, they were to be unclean for seven days, taking the ashes of the burnt sin offering and fresh water in a vessel and letting a clean person sprinkle this water and ash combination on them with hyssop on the third and seventh day. The one who sprinkled the water for impurity (or anyone who touched it) was to wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. Anyone who had become unclean and did not go through this process of cleansing was to be cut off from the people. Anything an unclean person touched would be unclean.
1. The waters of Meribah: As the children of Israel came into the wilderness of Zin, staying in Kadesh (where Miriam, the prophetess and Aaron’s sister, see Exodus 15:20), they once again grumbled against Moses and Aaron because they had no water to drink. They again pointed to the land of Egypt and asked why they had been brought out just to die here, obviously not having learned their lesson that the Lord would provide (see Exodus 17). The Lord told Moses to take the staff and assemble the congregation, and to speak to the rock before their eyes that water might flow from it to give water to the children on Israel and their cattle. After Moses assembled the people, however, he decided to strike the rock as he had done before (see Exodus 17:1-7) instead of speaking to it. He struck it twice, and indeed water came from it, but this misstep was counted as not believing in the Lord, and because of what Moses did here, he and Aaron would not be given the privilege of leading the children of Israel into the promised land when the time came. Thus, this place was called the waters of Meribah. This may seem like such a small thing to us, striking the rock as opposed to speaking to it, but this disobedience had large consequences for Moses and Aaron. This should give us warning against the “little” sins that we don’t think are that big of a deal to God.
2. Edom refuses passage: The children of Israel had made it to Kadesh which was on the border of the land of Edom, the inhabitants of whom were descended from Esau the brother of Jacob (see Genesis 25:30 and Genesis 36). They needed to pass though the land, and Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom, reminding him that Israel (sons of Jacob) was their brother and asking them to peacefully pass through their land. Moses made it clean that they would not pass though field or vineyard, but travel along the king’s highway. Edom, however, refused passage to Isreal, even after Moses insisted that they would pay for any water that they needed. Instead of letting them through, Edom came out agains them with a large army and strong force.
3. Deaths of Miriam and Aaron: There are two deaths recorded in this chapter. Miriam’s (the sister of Aaron, see first point) death is mentioned in passing at the beginning of this chapter, noting that the children of Israel were in Kadesh when she died and was buried. The time of Aaron’s death came when the children of Israel traveled from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. There the Lord told Moses that it was time for Aaron to be gathered to his people and not enter the promised land because of the incidence of disobedience at the waters of Meribah. Aaron’s garments were taken from him and put on his son Eleazar on top of the mountain, as a symbol of passing on the priesthood from father to son. Then Aaron died and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. The whole congregation of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days.
Tomorrow’s Reading: I Chronicles 25-29.
Praise the name of the Lord.