Nazirite Law Painting of Moses holding Ten Commandments and Aaron in priest's clothing.

Day 60 (March 1): God gives three laws to set apart Nazirites, ‘May the Lord bless you’ blessing, silver trumpets

Library of Congress

We are 1/6th of the way through this one-year journey through the Bible.  Though we have seen so much of God’s wonder, I think we’ve only had a glimpse at everything there is to know.  Stay tuned in to see how the Best Book in the World unfolds.  This challenge uses the The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.

If you are new to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge, welcome!  If you would like to start at the beginning, click here and scroll down to Day 1. The format for this great adventure is: the daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. This challenge uses the The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.

Today’s Reading
Numbers 6:1-27
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Answers

Q. (Numbers 6:1): I don’t recall hearing the designation Nazirite before.  It’s a vow Israelites can take to show their devotion to God?  And, they are “set apart” by not cutting their hair, abstaining from alcoholic drinks and staying away from the dead?  Can any Israelite be a Nazirite?  What role do they play, other than being close to God, in the society?

A. No, this is the introduction of the concept.  The Nazirite is basically a rite of purity and separation for the Lord that involved a vow — sometimes for life.  We might think of it kind of like the vows and separation that monks and nuns keep to this day for the purpose of showing their devotion to God.  The description points to those three items as ways of demonstrating the vow publicly: no alcohol or any vine product, no cutting the hair and no touching dead bodies.  As far as I can tell, anyone, including women, could take this particular vow and be separated for the Lord for the length of their vow.  We don’t have a ton of references to particular people who kept this vow in the Bible, but two who did were two of the most famous: Samson,  the “Hercules” of the Bible, whose story about getting his hair cut off makes a lot more sense if you understand this vow, and John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who prepares the way for His Master to enter His ministry.

Q. I have to admit that I started this day’s reading and stopped.  I saw all the rules — although these sound like a choice — and didn’t want to read them.  It seems like the Israelites had rule after rule after rule.  Any idea if they had fun too, or were things always serious?

A. To be quite honest with you, this section in particular is about as much “fun” as the Law gets.  That is, this section is not about requirement or obligation, but about making a vow or commitment to God that you DESIRED to do.  We don’t really know a ton about what life was like for ancient Israel, but keep in mind that the concept of “leisure” time is a fairly modern invention.  There wasn’t a lot of time for fun, they were trying to make it through the day.  The vast majority of the world’s population at this time, and for thousands of years, lived day to day.  It’s part of the reason that the very currency that we see used in the Bible, the denarius, was a unit of payment given for a day’s work.  People mostly lived hand to mouth, which is part of the reason that the Law specifically forbids exploiting workers by not paying them THAT DAY for their work (Lev 19:13).  Sorry, there wasn’t much time for fun!

Q. (6:18): God has said that the aroma from many sacrifices was pleasing to him.  I wouldn’t think hair would be?  Any idea why God would choose the Nazirites to grow their hair long?

A. Even in a society where the Law put restrictions on hair cutting, the length of a Nazirities’ hair would have made them stand out.  It was the most public display of the vow the person was practicing.

O. (6:24-26): Love this verse.  Every day, my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher at a classical school puts her hand on each of her students’ heads as they leave her classroom and quietly tells them this verse.  This is an awesome blessing.  It calms my mind.

Q. (10:10): It’s interesting that God says the trumpets will remind Him of the covenant He made with the Israelites.  Is this because the Israelites tend to like a roller coaster ride of following and not following God?

A. I have no idea why God would say this for Himself, but I do know that the silver trumpets would be part of Israelite worship for centuries: King David featured them prominently during his rule (1 Chron. 16:6 and 25), and they were used to call the people to the various feasts and holy days.  I don’t know about God being reminded, but surely the people would be reminded of the covenant when THEY heard them.

Q. (10:13): The cloud of God lifted so the Israelites followed.  In a recent reading, you mentioned that Judah’s troops led the way.  And you pointed out that Reuben’s followed a few tribes behind.  We know Reuben is the one who tried to rescue Joseph.  Why is the order of the tribes significant?

A. While it is true that Reuben (the oldest son, technically his descendants should have been first among the people) did try to save Joseph’s life, he also slept with one of Jacob’s wives (Gen. 35), and lost his place of prominence for it.  In his failing, it is Judah’s descendants who gain the position of prominence that will include the line of kings of the entire nation (including Jesus).  This is just one more place where the birth order doesn’t matter so much as God’s favor and the person’s own actions.

Shop: Thank you Jesus, for taking our punishment and simplifying our laws down to loving God, and others as ourselves.  This Love Rules shirt can remind all of those around you of condensed laws.

Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 11-13

Jacob gives blessing

Day 18 (Jan. 18): Jacob gives blessings to descendants, Jacob foretells future of sons, Jacob dies, Joseph reassures brothers, Joseph dies

The Jewish Museum / A gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Genesis 47:28-50:26
(1875-1859 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (47:28): There is about a 140-year discrepancy when this story took place?  Can you explain anything about how scientists have a hard time pinning down the dates?

A. I am honestly surprised that they can even make the two estimates that they have.  I feel that the dates they suggest are a bit too specific for my taste, mostly because you are talking about a period that was more than 3,500 years ago.

Here’s how it breaks down: we have some dating and archeological evidence for the united kingdom of Israel (which was ruled by Saul, David, and Solomon — recorded in 1 and 2 Samuel) that exists somewhere around 1000 BC.  The OT tells us that each of these men ruled for 40 years each, so there is a 120 year period (roughly) of united leadership before the nation fractures and falls apart after Solomon’s death (recorded in 1 and 2 Kings and Chronicles).  So basically, from there, scientists (this would include archeologists, but also linguists and other fields of study) have to work their way back to the previous events as presented in the OT (there are some scholars who doubt the authenticity of most of the writings that predate David’s kingdom, so that option is “on the table” too, though I think these scholars are TOO skeptical).

Working our way back, the OT (mostly Joshua) tells us that Joshua and the armies conquered Canaan after 10 years or so, and that the Israelites were in the desert 40 years, and in Egypt around 400 years.  So now we are back 450 years from around 1000 BC (so somewhere around 1450 or 1500 BC — you see we’ve already got a “rough” date for anything further back).  From there, you can work your way back using different versions of the ages of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, but you’re really only going to be able to estimate the dates from there.  The two numbers that you see probably represent a more “conservative” and more “liberal” dating of the event in question.  It’s at least partially guess work: that’s the best we can do.

Q. (47:29): I think we saw this practice somewhere else for making an oath.  What is the significance of a hand under the thigh?

A. Um….Hum.  See, here’s the thing, when the Bible speaks of the hand “under the thigh”, that’s not really an accurate translation — it means grasping something, uh, near the thigh on a man.  (We saw this once before with Abraham’s servant who went find Isaac a wife)  Basically, by grasping the object in question, the person swearing the oath is basically swearing on the family line.  (Isn’t Bible knowledge fun!)

Q.  (48:3) Can we talk about blessings?  We have read where God blesses people, Jacob got the blessing from Abraham before he died.  Abraham blessed Joseph and his sons in 49:15-16, which is a beautiful tribute from Abraham to God for all He has done for him.  This may sound like a silly question, but what is the nature of a blessing?  Do all blessings come from God?  Are they a hope, or something definite?  Today, we say we have many blessings.  The noun form is easy to understand, it just means all of the goodness around.  But, when someone says, “May God bless you,” do we have the right to say that?  I don’t feel that anyone can speak on God’s behalf.  Or, is it a request to God?

A. In the ancient world, it was understood that rulers and patriarchs had a power that extended beyond their physical power: the ability to bless and curse.  It was thought that the gods (or God in this case) was especially receptive to a dying patriarch’s wishes for his children or others that he wished to pass his “blessing” on to.  So in our case, the blessing is something of a request to God (not a promise God makes if you will), but we could most clearly think of it as something of a magical pronouncement that had the power to accomplish what the speaker requested, whether for good (blessing) or evil (curse).  This is why it is such an important part of the story of say Isaac and Jacob and Esau, or Jacob and Joseph in this case.

O. (48:19): Like Jacob himself was chosen by God instead of his older brother for his father Abraham’s blessing, Jacob says that Joseph’s younger son, Ephraim, will be blessed more than his older brother, Manasseh.  As we have seen before, birth order does not seem to be important to God.

Q. (49:7): We talked about blessings.  Let’s talk about curses.  Is Jacob speaking for God here?  Does cursing end the men’s bad behavior or say it will cause their ruin?

A. The curses here are the result of Simeon and Levi’s violent actions in avenging their sister (which was allowable, but didn’t exactly help Jacob’s reputation), as well as some other violence that we are not privy to.  While Jacob’s curse did not cause the ruin of Simeon and Levi’s descendants, they did come true.  In the book of Joshua, the land is divided up by casting lots, and the blessings or curses that are mentioned here seem to have their “pay off” in that story.  Simeon’s descendants are chosen by lot (basically seen as God’s will) to receive land within Judah’s allotment — reducing the prominence of his tribe despite being one of the oldest sons.  Levi’s descendants had a central role in the religious life of Israel: they became the priesthood.  But because of this central religious role, the tribe of Levi received no land to themselves, and were dispersed among the other 11 tribes.  Thus, we see how the curse comes to fruition: both Simeon and Levi’s descendants see themselves dispersed among the other tribes and lose their political power.

Q. (49:10) This is getting exciting.  Here we see that “the one it to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor” is Jesus Christ?  So, Judah’s descendants will rule the Israelites until their No. 1 descendant arrives, Jesus?  Am I reading this right or totally off base?

A. Well, you’ve read it correctly, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.  What Jacob is saying here is that the line of kings will come from Judah’s line — this is, kingship will be the most important contribution of this line.  There’s at least one little hiccup: Saul, the first king of Israel, is not of Judah’s line, for reasons that will become clear sometime down the road (it’s not worth going into now).  But after him, David and his descendants will mostly rule (I’m not sure of the exact pedigree), but as you get further and further from David and Solomon, the line becomes corrupt, and before the destruction of Jerusalem (way way way down the line), God declares in Jeremiah 22 that a descendent of David (via Solomon) will no longer sit on the throne, so the family was cut off.  This was the last king that Israel would have (around 580 BC) before Jesus came to rule.  So, there was a period of almost 600 where Israel had NO king before Jesus (who was a king in a different sense anyway), but up until that point, the line of David was (almost) always in the picture, even if they became corrupt.

Q.  (49:1-28): Oh, where to start on this one?  Can you tell us what we need to take from Jacob’s blessings to his sons?

A. As I’ve been mentioning, some of this information will come into play during the land distribution in Joshua, and I think it will be mostly clear then.  Two things come into play here: Reuben (as firstborn) should be entitled to the “best” blessing, but he screwed up (no pun intended) and got passed over.  We’ve already discussed Simeon and Levi.  The big “winners” in this are Judah (which we discussed), Joseph (it doesn’t say it here, but Joseph’s two sons that Jacob blesses get the inheritance meant for Joseph — one of them gets Levi’s place so the math still comes out to 12), and Benjamin (who gets a good blessing despite being the youngest).  I don’t think there is much else to discuss here for the other sons, but if we come across something later that references that section, I will mention it.

O. (49:29-32): Jacob must have been saddened that he was not able to bury Rachel in the cave with his father, grandfather and Leah since she died alongside the road.

O. (49:33): I picture Jacob here so relaxed.  He has seen his son Jacob that he thought was dead, he has seen Jacob’s sons, the ones that will carry on the blessing, he has given his blessing, and he has nothing left.  This reminds me when my grandma passed.  I was fortunate to be with her when she left.  She was 96, a devout Christian and had a fairly healthy life.  She was lying there, taking long, slow breaths with the help of an oxygen mask.  We were the only two in the room … that I could see.  She kept trying to take off her oxygen, but I kept putting it back on and she would take another deep breath like she had just come up from being under water. She had her eyes shut, but she still knew what she was doing.  She wanted the mask off!  It was late.  I had flown overseas to see her.  I finally nodded off and she had pulled the mask aside again.  I stirred and tried to put it back on her, but she had gone.  She looked so peaceful.  My neighbor said that when his dad died, the ones around could see him going through judgment.  His dad was talking to someone.  He said, “Wait, they’ve got some questions for me.”  Then, he said, “OK, I can cross now.”  Then he said when his mom went through judgment, it was terrifying.  That’s not a great note to end on, so does anyone else have a story they would like to share of witnessing someone going to heaven?

Q. (50:16-17): This is a lie?  I don’t remember anyone ever telling Jacob the truth about his brothers selling Joseph into slavery.  Is the important part here Joseph’s recognition that it was God’s work?

A. Yep, the fellas are lying to try and protect themselves, but it doesn’t matter.  Joseph has forgiven them and seen the way that God worked everything out.

Q.  Do we know anything outside of what the Bible says about Joseph’s death?  He was the second to youngest, yet his older brothers outlived him?

A. The story doesn’t indicate how many brothers were still alive, but it appears that at least some of them outlived him.  We have no record of any sort about Joseph or his brothers in Egypt as far as I know outside of the Old Testament.

O. (50:24) I have spoken of this before, but I think it’s worth highlighting again.  It almost feels like God did not have the outward relationship with Joseph as he did with Isaac and Abraham.  Here he says, “God will surely come to help you …” which sounds like there is a hint of a doubt.  It seems that he is passing this message down from what his father had been told by God.  We never hear God talking directly to Joseph, only in his ability to interpret dreams.  But, obviously, Joseph was filled with the Spirit.  To me this just goes to show that the relationship God has with one person can appear different than any other relationship.  We should not compare how others revere Him, just be happy they know God and you know God in your own special way.  We all have different gifts!

For further interest: Blessings may be a little different than you think:

Shop: Both Jacob and Joseph had some unrighteous moments, they learned from them and turned to Live for the Lord.  This super comfortable T-shirt design reminds us to do just that.

Tomorrow’s reading: Job 1:1-4:21

Esau is starving and sells his birthright to his brother, Jacob, in exchange for a bowl of food

Day 9 (Jan. 9): Jacob tricks Esau twice, Isaac tricks Abimelech, water rights, Isaac and Abimelech make peace, Jacob flees to uncle Laban

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
— Genesis 25:27-28:5
(2006-1928 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (26:7): Is there any significance of Isaac going through the same scenario as his father, saying that his wife was his sister for fear of being killed to get her?  Abraham and Isaac both seemed to not realize that the rulers they were scared of actually feared them because the rulers knew the Lord was with Abraham and Isaac.  Also, this seems to be setting up, “Thou shall not commit adultery?”

A. Outside the very likely scenario that Abraham TAUGHT Isaac this method of survival in a hostile environment, I am not aware of particular significance to it.  It is interesting to me that the rulers who are deceived by this ploy (twice with Abraham, once with Isaac) have a great deal of respect for married life, and clearly take great pains to avoid committing adultery.  They don’t seem to need a command not to, though it would appear “thou shall not bear false witness” should be in order for Abraham and Isaac.  Anyway, once again, for some reason, God rewards the behavior by having the king grant Isaac protection for himself and Rebekah.

Q. (26:18): To name a well, they must have been important.  It sounds like they are geographical markers, like a town.  Were they more than a hole in the ground?

A. Since much of the story to this point takes place in a desert, you can be that water locations and rights (note the number of disputes over water in just today’s text alone!) were absolutely crucial.  Wells and other watering holes would have been community-gathering points as well, so it is unsurprising that they would be given ceremonial “nicknames” to commemorate a major event that happened there.

O. (27:4): Eating seems to be a ceremonial occasion in the Bible thus far.  When the Lord appeared to Abraham, he prepared a feast of his best animals and harvest.  Here, Isaac asks Esau to prepare a meal before giving him his birthright blessing.  Today, we still practice feasts for important occasions and every day life.  I see it as a literal taking in and sharing God’s blessings, enjoying them and praising Him for them.

Q. (27:5-35): Why is such deception allowed in the story of Jacob tricking Isaac in giving him his blessing instead of Jacob?  It doesn’t sound like something God would approve. Was this planned by God, or He just knew what would happen?  It’s hard to understand free will when God knows everything that will happen to us.  He creates us and says that He knew us before we were formed.  So, did He create us to succeed or fail according to His plans?  I feel like I may get struck down for asking this question, but I’m sure the answer is in the Bible.

A. It is important to note that not everything the Bible reports is something the Bible approves of.  Jacob will pay a price for his deception of his brother and father: he will be forced into exile, though God will bring blessing to Jacob in spite of Jacob’s actions.  As I mentioned yesterday, God certainly knew in advance what Jacob would do, but ultimately, this is the line that God has chosen (for better or worse, see it sounds like a marriage already!) to redeem the entire world.  I tend to fall into the free will camp myself, with the understanding that just because God knows what I am going to do does not make me less responsible for it.  And God is capable of working with us in the midst of those good and bad decisions to carry out His purposes.  And the real payoff in this story for the “good things coming out of really, really bad decisions” is still coming out of the story of Jacob’s 12 sons: the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.  So, honestly, at this point, let’s let the story unfold and we can see the way that God will use Jacob’s deception to bring about the redemption that He desires.

For more insight: A scholarly discussion on Isaac’s blessing:

Shop: Don’t be a fish out of water, follow the teacher!

Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 28:6-30:24