vow

Day 148-150

Numbers 31

return of balaam(deep inhale)

Ahem.

He dies.

Over the course of the invasion of Midian by the Israelites, there is a quick, almost throwaway line about Balaam being put to the sword. Doops. As C.S. Lewis wrote, and as I have previously quoted, some men serve God as sons while others serve as tools. It seems like this tool outlived his usefulness.

In other news, the Israelites burn the towns and rape the fields, or something. Or maybe they plunder the fields, steal the towns, and rape the livestock. I think I’m getting my war stuff mixed up.

But seriously, they put all the men and boys to the sword, kill any woman who is not a virgin, and take all the virgins.

It is interesting to note that anyone who killed another human, even in what might be called a “righteous war,” is considered unclean and must be cleansed. At times, it seems, force may be necessary, but that makes it no less distasteful.

Articles must also be cleansed with fire or water, as appropriate.

The commanders, it is written, did not lose a single man in the battles, and so they return to Moses and Eleazar and offer them gold articles as an offering to the Lord. The articles are taken as a memorial for the Israelites.

A point of note in this chapter: the Lord is given His tribute, which is entrusted to Eleazar the priest. The Levites are given a portion of the tribute as well. It is important in our victories to give credit, to pay tribute, to the Lord and to those who lead us as His servants. The Levites abdicated their worldly inheritance in exchange for their divine obligation. Even though those who serve God must renounce certain worldly pleasures, in time they will be given their own rewards, as appropriate for their service.


Numbers 32

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this chapter, and Mr. Henry’s concise commentary is little help.

Basically, a couple of the tribes request the recently conquered land so that they may build cities and have fields for their livestock. They would rather live there than in Canaan, and Moses goes off on them for this. He condemns them thus in Numbers 32, verses 14-15:

“…a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.”

Matthew Henry does make a good point here:

“If men considered as they ought what would be the end of sin, they would be afraid of the beginning of it.”

Moses outlines the consequences of the sin of these tribes and they quickly attempt to find a solution. They offer to send their armies out ahead of the other tribes, and vow not to return to their lands until all of Canaan is in the hands of the Israelites. Moses warns them of the consequences of not keeping their word, but allows them to make this vow.

Here’s what I don’t get. They deny the inheritance, the Promised Land offered them by the Lord. And yet, by making this vow to support and to lead ahead of their brother tribes, they seem to be doing fine.

What I’m wondering is, is this a case like Balaam, several chapters ago, where God finally just gives them what they want and allows them to sin, regardless of how detestable? Or is this something else, some kind of alternative?

It seems to me closer to the first one. If they don’t want the Promised Land of Canaan, then God isn’t going to force them to take it. There is no one dragging us to heaven. We have to seek it and (most of all) accept it for ourselves.


Numbers 33

This chapter features a summary of the travels of the Israelites. I’m glad this exists because let me tell you, this journey has been really hard to follow. I think someone knew that people wouldn’t want to keep track of everything, and so here outlined it. Huzzah!

I feel like there is another quick point I can make here: there are things that are not in the Bible because they do not relate to the relationship between man and God. The Bible is not a textbook; it does not explain the mechanisms by which the world operates nor the methods by which God interacts physically with the world. The miracles are important; the methods maybe not so much. It is important to remember that miracles are possible; the opening of Balaam’s mouth by God was just as miraculous as His giving a voice to a donkey.

The travels of the Israelites are probably important. Matthew Henry explains that the Israelites were led forward and backward, all over by the guidance of the Lord.

“The way God takes in bringing his people to himself is always the best way, though it does not always seem to us the nearest way.”

The Israelites are commanded, when they go into Canaan, to destroy the temples and crush the idols, and to drive the people away. God warns (Numbers 33:55) that anyone left

will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides.”

It is important to note that this is metaphorical; we must eradicate all traces of our sin, and especially of outward temptation. We must guard ourselves carefully against temptation, lest it threaten our inheritance, lest it threaten the gifts that God has for us.


Good day to you all. Peace be upon you.

Advertisements

Day 147

Numbers 29

Moses outlines the festivals that followers of the Lord are commanded to celebrate. Interestingly enough, celebration was the topic at last Sunday’s sermon, which… took place on the day after I was supposed to write about Numbers 29.

The problem with the sermon, as well-meaning as I believe the pastor to have been, is that it sounded a lot like “if you’re somber or sad, then you’re not being a good Christian.” This is a little too close to what has been called prosperity theology, or the prosperity gospel. To quote Wikipedia,

“Prosperity theology teaches that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as physical health and economic prosperity.”

It is also noted that followers and preachers of the prosperity gospel view poverty and sickness as spiritual ailments or curses that can be alleviated through faith. My partner has had some very negative experiences with churches that follow prosperity theology.

Poverty and illness are curses? Yeah, I mean it’s a damn shame to be sick or poor, and I believe that dedicated faith can lead to greater willpower and desire which can in turn lead to financial success. However, I don’t think that God’s plan for people involves or guarantees financial well-being. Poverty is not a sign of God’s disfavor.

Can poor personal habits and a lack of direction lead to poverty? Yes. But I don’t think that physical, material wealth has much to do with faith in Christ.

I see this situations as teaching surrender to God and His will, as opposed to undesirable curses. Does being poor debilitate a person? Damn right it does. I’ve lived with it for a long time, and sitting around that poverty line is depressing. It emotionally and spiritually drains you. Or it can.

But regardless, God can and will give you the strength to work through it, if you ask. “Thy will be done, in all things.” I seriously hate the phrase “Let go and let God,” but it’s important to ask that His will be done, that He may guide you to it.

Can the principles in the Bible teach you to be rich? Probably? I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I’m willing to bet that if that’s the motivation one has while reading it, one will find a variety of implementable tips or lessons for financial success.

And just to be clear, I have no problem with people who want to be rich. I myself am determined to achieve some measure of wealth, to surpass my parents and my family, to provide for my own family and possible future children.

However, I think we, especially as Christians, have to see wealth as a means and not an end. Wealth as an end is idolatrous. But with wealth, one can do many things and help many others. We should seek to do our best as Christians even in poverty, but if we are wealthy, then our goal should still be to serve and glorify God.

Bill Gates is probably my favorite example of a wealthy person who does amazing things with his riches. Go to the website of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Read the 2014 annual letter. If that doesn’t restore some of your faith in humanity, I don’t know what will.

Wealth and power are responsibilities. Health and stability may be gifts if God intends them to be, but they may make us complacent.

“[A]s there may be pleasures in Hell (God shield us from them), there may be something not all unlike pains in Heaven (God grant us soon to taste them).”

— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

In Numbers 29, the Israelites are commanded to celebrate, but every day of these festivals and celebrations involves sacrifices and offerings to God. Even, or especially, in our celebrations, we are told to humble ourselves to God, to supplicate ourselves before Him, and to glorify Him in all things.

In sorrow and in joy, do not forget the Lord.


Numbers 30

Oh my goodness, I went and looked at Matthew Henry’s unabridged commentary. It made my head hurt a little.

Numbers 30 concerns the making of vows, oaths, and pledges. Basically, at its core, this chapter states that a man who makes a vow must not break his word.

That’s a quote, by the way: “[H]e must not break his word but must do everything he said.”

This chapter also outlines how fathers and husbands have the power to override vows made by their daughters and wives, respectively. I think this is meant to be indicative of the Biblical position of fathers/husbands as the heads of households, which I think is intended to correlate with how God (the Father) is meant to be the head of the Church, both as a collective and as the singular body of worship that one human being offers.

Now, I don’t have the book in front of me, but I am reminded of the book Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. If I recall correctly, he talks at some point(s) about the importance of keeping one’s word or speaking the truth. Or maybe I’m thinking of The Four Agreements, in which I know for a fact the author Don Miguel Ruiz outlines the importance of what he calls “being impeccable with [one’s] word.”

“Impeccable,” by the way, comes from a Latin word, meaning “not liable to sin.” An impeccable word is free of sin.

The way I see it, breaking vows erodes the strength of one’s soul. You make a habit of being disingenuous, of saying things that you have no intention of following through upon, of being careless in word and in deed. There is some Biblical support for this, I think:

“Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”

— Ecclesiastes 5:5

Keep those words and deeds in line, dear readers! Keep that soul strong, exercise the power of your will, that you may have more dedication to offer to God.

Peace be upon you.

Day 117

I have this project that I want to work on that is completely unrelated to this project but I’m hesitant/afraid to start it because I know I’m going to suck at it for a while. I tell the kids I work with that “sucking at something is the first step to getting really really good at something,” which is roughly a quote from Adventure Time but I can’t seem to actually follow through on that myself.

I met some interesting folk today. If they were angels, they were cleverly disguised, but to stretch the metaphor, it seems most of them are. I noticed an older man observing me while I was working with some of my kids (clients) today. We were at a “natural foods” grocery store and the man struck up a conversation with me asking essentially what I was doing working with these four native kids. I didn’t go into the whole “behavioral health” aspect of my job, since he didn’t seem like he had the right idea about their lives/circumstances, so I just told him it was part of like a summer program.

We talked for a short while, his very old wife remaining quiet, and at one point he asked me about church, if I or my program were affiliated with any particular church. I told him there’s one I’ve gone to a couple times (not true, but will be true as of Sunday morning) but that I work for a private company. He seemed really nice overall and said as much about me. I forget his exact words but he seemed to think highly of me, either for how I presented myself or my line of work or both.

He seemed to think I was a sharp kid when I was able to answer “the casinos” to the question “How do the Indians scalp the white man these days?” He wasn’t joking, either. He was just sort of making a statement.

It was an interesting conversation.

But it turns out that he and his roughly-twenty-years-his-senior wife are followers of a man named William H. Branham, of whom I have never heard. Apparently he was a minister called to be some sort of prophet by God. The elderly woman I spoke to claimed that he put his hand over a blind girl’s face and she was able to open a pair of brand new blue eyes. They stressed that it was not Branham’s power, but God’s power that did this.

Sometimes, I don’t know what to believe.


Leviticus 27

See, when I get cocky about being able to “understand” the Bible, I get stuff like this. Maybe it was appropriate that this man I spoke to today said something about human interpretation of the Bible always being flawed. Maybe that was the hidden message of the conversation. Or maybe I’m human and misinterpreted it.

Anyway, let’s see what Matthew Henry can clear up about this chapter, because all this talk of “valuation” doesn’t seem to have any context and so I don’t know what anyone’s talking about.

Matthew Henry didn’t help, but this site did. Over here at Bible.org, they offer this helpful definition:

Simply viewed, offering a vow is practicing a kind of “credit card” act of worship. It is a promise to worship God with a certain offering in the future, motivated by gratitude for God’s grace in the life of the offerer. The reason for the delay in making the offering was that the offerer was not able, at that moment to make the offering. The vow was made, promising to offer something to God if God would intervene on behalf of the individual, making the offering possible. In many instances, the vow was made in a time of great danger or need. The Rabbis believed that the gifts which were vowed in Leviticus 27 were to be used for the maintenance of the Temple.

Apparently the long and short of it is that you could vow stuff to God and if you ever wanted it back (???) then you could pay money and get it back. I guess.

Anyway, this is the last section of commandments from God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Hoo-rah.

Tomorrow begins Numbers, people. Get ready.

Have a good night, and peace be upon you.