This is a way for me to journal thoughts about my daily devotional time. I'm slowly reading through the entire Bible, in order, which I don't recommend if you've never read your Bible much before. Start in the New Testament instead, and read the Gospel of John, and then continue through Acts and Romans.
I find that writing my thoughts here makes me think things out more, and encourages me to do it, because folks will notice if I don't.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the TNIV: The Holy Bible: Today's New International Version™, copyright © 2001, 2005 by International Bible Society®. All rights reserved worldwide.
In Numbers 19, God gives a "recipe" for a blend of ashes to be used in ceremonies for purification.
Numbers 19 - "6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet [wool] and throw them onto the burning heifer."
I wonder if the combination of cow ashes, wood, hyssop and some scarlet material (wool? yarn?) produced anything biochemically useful for things unclean, or if the concoction is primarily symbolic?
Hyssop first appears in Exodus 12, where it is used to paint the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorframe. So it starts with a strong connotation of "set apart". Then in Leviticus a similar blend of ingredients is used to purify someone who'd had an infectious disease, though the blood of a bird is used instead of the ashes of a cow.
Which makes a kind of sense: birds and cattle were both offering animals, with birds being used for lesser things and cattle for more serious offenses. And an infectious skin disease is less serious than outright sin, though both made someone unclean in Israel.
David associates hyssop with being made clean from sin, no doubt because of this ordinance:
Psalm 51 - "7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
A clarification from my previous update: I'm not suggesting that Old Testament idols actually contain evil spirits. I'm not sure demons can inhabit inanimate objects. I am suggesting that when a random prophet of Baal was cutting himself in front of an idol, there was probably a demon somewhere nearby, receiving that worship.
Back to new thoughts. I'm interested in Aaron, the brother of Moses. We talk about Moses a lot in these Church Era days, but not so much Aaron.
Aaron first appears only a little after Moses, where he's appointed as Moses' mouthpiece in Exodus 4. Throughout the dealings with Pharoah and the Exodus, he seems pretty solid, doing what God tells him to, and being used by God.
With Hur, he holds up Moses' hands so that Joshua and the Israelites will prevail against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:12). With his sons Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel he came partway up the mountain with Moses and "saw God" and worshiped. (Exodus 24) Then, when Moses and Joshua went up the rest of the way to receive the law, Aaron was commanded to wait and take care of the Israelites while Moses received the law from God:
Exodus 24 - "14 He said to the elders, 'Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.'"
For forty-six days, Aaron was in charge. And here's where his jealousy of his brother starts to surface. He begins to act against Moses. The Israelites get tired of waiting for Moses to return. They suspect he's dead. So when they ask Aaron to "make us gods who will go before us," he's more than willing to take matters into his own hands. He takes up a collection of gold earrings....
Exodus 32 - "4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, 'These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, 'Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.'"
Revelry commences. The noise attracts Moses' attention, who comes down from the mountain and freaks out. He rallies the Levites, and about three thousand Israelites are slain by the sword. Moses is clear about who's at fault, too.
Exodus 32 - "25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies."
He asks Aaron, "What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?" (vs. 21). Aaron even calls the calf "the Lord", using that name to refer to the golden idol. And all this despite the fact that much of the law that God was giving Moses named Aaron specifically in various rites. In my translation, Aaron's name shows up 39 times in Exodus 27-31. At this point, Aaron is clearly not walking in the life that God has planned for him.
After this, Moses returns to the mountain briefly, and then he tells the Israelites all the ordinances he'd been given by God. And they get to work actually building the tabernacle, the altar and the other things commanded by God. Aaron and his sons are "sworn in" and begin ministering as priests.
However, Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu, who you remember had seen God personally up on the mountain, offered "unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command." (Leviticus 10:1)
Leviticus 10 - "2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, 'This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:
'"Among those who approach me
I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored."'
Aaron remained silent."
You get the feeling that Aaron isn't very good at discipline. The Israelites are out of control after only forty days of his leadership, and his own sons are also out of bounds. It appears that maybe Aaron's sons had been drinking, because immediately following this God commands Aaron regarding drinking and priestly duties:
Leviticus 10 - "8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, 9 'You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, 10 so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.'"
God then gives Moses and Aaron more ordinances, including some specific details about how and when Aaron is supposed to enter the Most Holy Place.
We move on into Numbers, where Moses and Aaron take a census and the Levites are added to the ranks of those sharing the priestly duties. Aaron is going about his day to day duties as a priest, it seems.
It's not long before his sister Miriam begins to stir up those feelings of jealousy again:
Numbers 12 - "2 'Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?' they asked. 'Hasn't he also spoken through us?' And the Lord heard this."
As a result, Miriam is punished. And after this, it seems, Aaron does some soul searching and settles his allegiance.
In Numbers 16, two hundred fifty Israelite leaders rebel. This time, they are not with Aaron, but against him.
Numbers 16 - "3 They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, 'You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?'"
Moses issues a challenge, and the four instigators of this rebellion are swallowed up by the earth (along with their families), fire comes out from the Lord and burns up the 250, and the next way when the Israelite community grumbles against Moses and Aaron, a plague breaks out.
Numbers 16 - "46 Then Moses said to Aaron, 'Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the Lord; the plague has started.' 47 So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. 48 He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. 49 But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. 50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, for the plague had stopped.
This rebellion ends with Aaron returning to stand by Moses. And God has had enough of the people rebelling. He has Moses speak to the leaders of the twelve ancestral tribes of Israel and get from each one a staff inscribed with his name. The staff of the tribe of Levi has Aaron's name written on it.
Numbers 17 - "5 The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites."
The next day Aaron's staff had not only sprouted, but "had budded, blossomed and produced almonds." God tells them to keep the budded staff on display, so that it "will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die."
God then charges Aaron, not speaking through Moses as before, but directly.
Numbers 18 - "8 I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion and regular share."
The Israelites move on into the desert. Miriam dies and is buried. The Israelites grow thirsty and complain again. Moses is told to speak to the rock to provide them water, but he strikes it instead. As punishment for not trusting God completely, he's condemned to die before entering the promised land.
And sadly, Aaron is condemned also. He is sent up to Mount Hor with his son. Moses removes Aaron's priestly garments and puts them on his son, instead, passing the torch to his descendent. And then Aaron dies.
Numbers 20 - "29 And when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, the entire house of Israel mourned for him thirty days."
It seems possible that Aaron never even lived to perform many of the rites that bear his name. Within a relatively short period, his sons were killed by the Lord, his sister died, and he himself followed them.
Yet the Bible doesn't remember Aaron for his sins.
1 Chronicles 23 - "13 Aaron was set apart, he and his descendants forever, to consecrate the most holy things, to offer sacrifices before the Lord, to minister before him and to pronounce blessings in his name forever."
Psalm 105:26 describes Aaron as one who the Lord had chosen. Hebrews 5:4 says he was "called by God." In Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, he mentions the golden calf incident, but places the blame on "our fathers", who rejected Moses' (and thus God's) authority.
What are we to make of this man? It is clear that God had chosen him, despite his stubbornness. It is clear that God is in charge, despite our weakness. It is clear that God forgives. And that God doesn't usually choose the good leaders.
1 Corinthians 1 - "27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
God, may I not be like Aaron. I believe you won't give up on me and will pursue me even when I rebel. May I take hold of the life you have in store for me. May I settle my allegiance and trust in you. I don't want to die on the mountain, never walking in the path you've planned.
It's been way too long since I've done a deep study of any kind. Here are a couple of thoughts, however.
Proverbs 27 - "2 Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips."
I am terrible at this. As Brian Hook once wrote, I have a "penchant for self-promotion."
Jeremiah 46 - "25 The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "I am about to bring punishment on Amon god of Thebes, on Pharaoh, on Egypt and her gods and her kings, and on those who rely on Pharaoh."
I turned to this verse randomly just last night, and it occurred to me like an epiphany that God here refers to "Amon, god of Thebes" as if he's an actual person, and that that's significant.
All the gods mentioned in the Old Testament are not just idols or false gods. In many cases, they were probably specific demons or groups of demons masquering as gods. It's what Lucifer wanted before he was thrown out of heaven, after all. Is it any wonder if he seeks worshippers once given free reign on the earth?
I'm sure that often enough people worshipping false gods are just praying to a dead piece of carved wood or stone. But might sometimes there be a creature sitting there, too, receiving their worship? And why not?
This helps to explain the motivations of Lucifer, as well. He's not just spreading lies about God to take glory away from God and to sow as much discord (Belial?) as possible. He's also doing it to gain glory for himself and worshippers, if only after a fashion.
Even if someone is not praising him directly, pouring passion into something he created is probably fairly rewarding.
Eep! Since school started three weeks ago, my Bible study has been way too inconsistent. This update will be a combination of the few things I've read and mulled over in that time.
Numbers 11 - "10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the Lord, 'Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?'"
It hit me for the first time in reading this passage that Moses is honestly dismayed here. He is the one with the burning desire to rescue his countrymen from slavery. He is the one with the relationship so close to God that they speak face-to-face. And even despite all the miracles done so far in their Exodus, these "stiff-necked and rebellious people" continue to gripe.
I think Moses feels unfairly treated by God here. As far as we know, Moses is doing everything right; he's following God's will for his life to the letter, basically. And for his trouble he's saddled with a couple million whiny adults. And we know that – at least at first – social skills are not Moses' fortè. So he's frustrated and angry and ready to give up on the whole endeavor.
Now, later in this chapter, God sets us for him a ruling body of seventy men to take over some of the administrative load. And I imagine having to deal with seventy leaders instead of a million plebians is a major improvement no matter how you slice it.
Numbers 11 - "31 Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day's walk in any direction. 32 All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers.
Earlier God boasts that he's going to provide enough meat to feed all the Israelites for a whole month. And that's a lot of meat, so I decided to crunch the numbers here.
First of all, these quail were up to three feet deep in places. Secondly, I'm going to assume that "a day's walk" is about 30 miles, which a quick google or two confirms is reasonable.
Now, since it's "a day's walk in any direction", that means these quail filled a circle thirty miles in diameter. Which is an area of over 2,500 square miles! At depths up to three feet! That is a lot a quail.
Further, the footnotes in my Bible suggest that ten homers of quail may be on the order of 1.75 tons. And "no one gathered less." Wow. God is clearly showing off here.
Numbers 12 - "10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam's skin was leprous — it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease; 11 and he said to Moses, 'Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away.'
"13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, 'O God, please heal her!'
"14 The Lord replied to Moses, 'If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.' 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back."
At first, I was concerned about God striking only Miriam when both she and Aaron were at fault. Why?
After some poking around, pastor Brian remembered that Miriam and Aaron were Moses' brother and sister. (Exodus 4:14, 15:20) So for Miriam to suffer dishonor would also dishonor Aaron, since presumably he was supposed to keep his sister under control. At least, that's all I could come up with.
I do really like the Lord's response, though. They repent of their sin, and God forgives, but he's also pragmatic. "You know, if her earthly father had spit in her face, she'd have been unclean for a week. And I'm the Lord Almighty, and I gave her a skin disease for her insolence. She'll be healed, but at least require her for a week to suffer the shame of dishonoring me."
A quite reasonable request. God is slow to anger, after all, and isn't prone to spur-of-the-moment, spurious punishments. And for them to suffer no consequences for their mutiny....
(This next passage was one I read for my discipleship triad.)
I Corinthians 15 - "19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others."
This verse stands in stark contrast to Pascal's Wager, which is lengthy but often boiled down to this: if you don't follow God you gain but a little in this life if you're right and lose infinitely much in the next if you're wrong. If you do follow God you lose but a little in this life if you're wrong but gain infinitely much in the life to come if you're right. The smart wager, Pascal asserts, is on following God in this life.
Now, Pascal's argument is much longer and actually has three parts, only the last of which is in view here. However, Paul admits that those who follow Christ in this life lose quite a bit relative to "all others".
I suspect the difference here is the cost of belief. Paul was beaten, persecuted and imprisoned for the sake of the cross. Pascal was probably thought "a little odd" by some friends. How much is my allegiance worth? Do I more resemble Paul, or Pascal? And whose fault if my faith is shallow? The culture's, or mine?
I Corinthians 15 - "20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."
"Firstfruits" is a tithe word. It talks about the first part, and therefore implies the remaining part. That there's more to come. And the firstfruits were the best of the crop, just as Christ is similar, though superior to us. And after giving the tithe, the rest we keep, though we're then Christ's (c.f. 23).
I Corinthians 15 - "33 Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.'"
My footnote explains that Paul is here quoting the Greek poet Menander. Man, Paul is so cool.
And talk about a timeless quote....
Numbers 10 - "2 Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. 3 When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 4 If only one is sounded, the leaders – the heads of the clans of Israel – are to assemble before you."
As a musician, I wonder about these trumpets. Did you buzz your lips in a mouthpiece to make the sound? Or just on the mouth of a tube? Or was it something you just blew into? And how did they know if both were being sounded versus just one? Were they at different pitches?
I'm also picturing the "whole community" gathering together to assemble. We're talking like two million persons all gathered in one place at once. Did Moses or Aaron just shout into the crowd?
Update 2005-09-05: Sometime in the last couple of weeks it's occurred to me that sounding a trumpet when the Israelites were about to go into battle is echoed in Revelation. There are a couple of battles described there, and some trumpet blasts, too. Though I believe those horns are gold rather than silver, if that makes a difference.
Numbers 9 - "1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt."
You know, I hadn't really thought before about how much the Israelites just had to trust that what Moses was telling them was really what God had said to him.
It seems that God spoke exclusively to Moses, and then he passed on those words, we presume accurately. However, this is not the same as Joseph Smith using the stones to "translate" the golden plates like in Mormonism, another major religion where much of the teaching came from just a single representative for God.
In particular, there's a little something about miracles. These same Israelites had seen the plagues back in Egypt. They'd followed Moses' orders for the Passover and seen their firstborn live while those of the Egyptians died. They'd crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, and seen the army of the Egyptians drown. They'd eaten (and were still eating) manna, the mysterious bread on the ground, drank water from the rock, and had seen the Amalekites defeated as long as Moses held up his hands. And they'd seen or heard about Aaron's two sons, Nadab and Abihu (in Leviticus 10) who didn't take God's rules (spoken through Moses) seriously about when to offer fire on the altar, and (verse 2) "fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord."
Joseph Smith? Well, he got run out of town a few times. Married an under-18 girl or two.
So, although the Israelites just had to trust that Moses was accurately passing on the commands of God, they'd also seen supernatural things happen when those commands were obeyed, and supernatural punishment when they were not. As a case in point:
Numbers 9 - "15 On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. 16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18 At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp."
So the Israelites at this point weren't so much following Moses as they were following the cloud. Which they would continue to do for the next forty years, to their shame.
Also in this chapter, verses 6-13 detail how God made an exception to his rules for those facing a conflict while trying in good faith. Some folks had touched a dead body (possibly burying a relative) and thus were unclean when the appointed time for the Passover came. They wanted to participate in the Passover with their brothers, but couldn't because as unclean people they were supposed to be kept outside of camp for a while. (Numbers 5).
So God created a "make-up session" for the Passover meal, to be celebrated by those who'd been legitimately unable to participate, one month later than usual.
And while searching around to see if I could find how long someone became unclean when coming in contact with the dead (I couldn't), I ran across an interesting bit. In Numbers 21:5: "Priests must not shave their heads...." Unless they're being dedicated. Which helps set apart the new priest from the others, since they'd be the only twenty-somethings in priestly garb and with shaved heads.
Numbers 8 - "7 To purify them, do this: sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves."
Goodness. This was a serious matter. Not only would the Levites have plenty of time to think about what they were doing, but they would clearly stand out. It'd be very easy to notice when a Levite was among you for a few days, that's for sure.
The Nazirites were supposed to shave their heads when their vows were over. So generally, it seems, shaven heads implied a strong commitment to God. I wonder what it was like to try to shave off all one's hair using a razor circa 1200 B.C.?
The Levites would start working in the temple when they were 25, and were forced to "retire" at 50. It'd be nice to have such a job. And I imagine the rite of purification would probably be done for the new Levites upon their twenty-fifth birthday. So you could always tell: the guy with no body hair? That's the new priest.
From Numbers 1:46 we know there were 603,550 Israelite men twenty years old or older. And there were 8,580 Levites from 30 to 50. Since there were women and children, too, we can assume there were probably close to two million Israelites (1.2 million adults). And since Levites started serving at 25 rather than the 30 from which we have the count, we can add another 20% at least, getting us to roughly 10,000 priests.
So, an extremely rough estimation is that there was one active priest for every 100-120 adults. A single goat for an offering would probably feed several priests a couple of meals, so the average person could only come in for a sacrifice once a week and still keep the Levites taken care of.
And 100:1 is not a bad ratio for care. I wonder if people had a "favorite" priest they typically went to for their sacrifices. "Oh, Eliasaph is working today. I need to go in a make a fellowship offering...."
Numbers 7 - "88 The total number of animals for the sacrifice of the fellowship offering came to twenty-four oxen, sixty rams, sixty male goats and sixty male lambs a year old. These were the offerings for the dedication of the altar after it was anointed."
From Numbers 3:39, we know there were 22,000 Levite males one month old and older. From Numbers 4:48, we know there were 8,580 Levite males between the ages of 30 and 50. (These guys actually did the work of "serving and carrying the tent of meeting.")
The Levites didn't have land of their own, and thus couldn't have crops or livestock. They were completely dependent on the offerings and sacrifices of the rest of Israel for their food.
So, how many men can you feed with "twenty-four oxen, sixty rams, sixty male goats and sixty male lambs a year old"? Not to mention the twelve male goats from the sin offering.
As a sometimes vegetarian who's also recently read the interesting book What Would Jesus Eat?, I note that there are eight times as many non-beef animals for their food as oxen. Oxen are bigger, of course, but these Israelites did not eat very much beef at all.
Numbers 7 - "9 But Moses did not give any to the Kohathites, because they were to carry on their shoulders the holy things, for which they were responsible."
I find it interesting that the Kohathites, charged with carrying the holy things, were not given oxen or carts. This is significant in 2 Samuel 6, for example.
Why in verses 12-83 does it bother to specify in such detail what each man brought when each man brought the same thing? To show that they were the same? Can't you just say, "On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, did likewise"?
It's also funny that the folks who put in the chapter and verse numbers (way later in history than the content was written, by the way) put this lone verse in with the rest of chapter 7:
Numbers 7 - "89 When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him."
Numbers 6 - "2 'If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the Lord as a Nazirite, 3 they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. 4 As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.'"
The Nazirite vow intruigues me. First, Jesus was not a Nazirite. His first miracle was turning water to wine, for example. And he came into contact with dead bodies from time to time. So therefore he wouldn't have had long hair, for the record.
Next, was God creating a new thing here, or was he merely codifying what people were already doing? For many of the rules in the Mosaic Law, it was the latter, I understand. So it's interesting that perhaps people were taking vows, setting themselves apart to God for a time, and so God says, "If you're going to do this, here's what you should do."
Contrast this with some of the ascetic monks of the middle ages, who really went overboard in trying to deny their flesh. One suspects God's rules here were designed to prevent just such abuses of the idea.
And talk about staying far away from the line! The goal is to abstain from strong drink, it would appear, and so to really make it easy to make sure you're clean, there are no raisins or grapes or even grape skins, either! This is wisdom, really. None of this, "I won't break the law, but I'm going to see how close I can get" mentality.
I wonder how long the "average" duration of a Nazirite vow was. Or was there even an average? A week? A year? Life? In the case of Samson, at least (Judges 13), he was set apart from birth for his whole life.
Numbers 6 - "24 The Lord bless you
and keep you
25 the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."
This is how God told the priests to bless the people. I swear I've heard this before, fairly verbatim. I'm going to assume it was in one of the more liturgical denominations: Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, or Methodist.
It occurs to me that the passage in Numbers 5 is very similar to Exodus 32. This is where Moses has just come down from receiving the Ten Commandments and finds the people have created a golden calf and are worshiping it: sacrificing and giving it offerings, then having a drunken feast followed by (apparently) orgies and dancing.
This angered God, who was inclined to wipe them out, and then when Moses saw it in person, he ground the golden calf into powder, "scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it." (vs. 20)
Further, because of their spiritual adultery, Moses set the Levites loose in the camp, just killing their brothers. Three thousand died by the sword that day. And then, to complete the connection, "the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what the did with the calf Aaron had made." (vs. 35)
This is too similar to be coincidental, especially given the short amount of time that would have passed between the "golden calf" incident and Moses giving them this law about handling adultery.
In both cases, dust is put into the water and the offender is made to drink it. In both cases, the priest is overseeing this administering of justice. In both cases, guilt brought sickness, whereas innocence resulted in no ill effects from the drink. (Presumably any in the Israelite camp who hadn't been involved in the idolatry would have been spared from the resultant plague.)
In fact, it seems highly likely that the test for marital infidelity was framed to remind the Israelites of their own adultery. Which still doesn't explain what "holy water" is all about.
Going back to my Word Study Old Testament, the adjective translated "holy" is qadhosh. It means "sacred (ceremonially or morally), selected, pure, holy, or consecrated." This is the word used of things to be used only in the sanctuary by the priests. It refers to "what is intrinsically sacred and distinct (even opposed to) what is common."
This Hebrew word most often translated as "holy", by the way, is the noun qodhesh, which implies apartness, holiness, sacredness; a holy thing.
It's interesting that holy-as-a-noun appears in the Bible many times more than holy-as-an-adjective. And yet English doesn't even have a noun for "holy".
In any case, the specification for "holy water" in Numbers 5, then may not mean anything more than "the water to use for this test shouldn't just be any water from the city's regular drinking supply. It must be water that has been set apart, and which is used only by priests for ceremonial purposes such as these."
Numbers 5 - "17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water."
This is the beginning of an interesting passage about what to do if a man suspects that his wife has been unfaithful to him, but has no way to prove it. Seeing how God wanted the nation of Israel to deal with this situation is significant, because through the Bible (especially the prophets and the writings of Paul), marriage is seen as a picture of the relationship between God and us, his church. And as the Bride of Christ, we are the ones who often go astray. Jeremiah laments about this "adultery", for example.
Another thing that struck me particularly in this verse is the phrase "holy water". I pulled out my Complete Word Study Old Testament, so I could check the Hebrew, and in fact the expected words are used: the regular Hebrew adjective meaning "holy" or "set apart", and the regular Hebrew noun meaning "water".
I know that Catholics and some other faiths use "holy water" for things, but I'd never noticed the phrase in the Bible before now. And in fact, these two words are never put together again in the Bible. The only reference to holy water in the entire Bible is here in Numbers 5:17. It doesn't explain how to obtain this holy water in any prior passage, and it's never discussed again. Interesting.
A shorter version of these ideas were written on a little piece of paper stuck in my Bible.
Leviticus 25 - "3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards."
I am struck in reading through Leviticus about how serious God was/is about keeping the sabbath. I mean, God lists breaking the sabbath in the ten commandments along with murder and adultery. And it's mentioned not just once in passing, but several times in great detail throughout Exodus and Leviticus.
This is a big deal. He even talks about the importance of giving the land and the people a "sabbath year" one year out of every seven, and a "Year of Jubilee" one year out of every fifty (that is, after every seven sevens of years).
I mean, it's obvious how doing so would help the land to not be overfarmed and such for agrarian societies. And part of the reason for the years of captivity for the Israelites was to allow the land to have the sabbath rest that they never gave it.
But what I want to know is, how do I do this as a public school teacher? Is there a way for me, as an LISD employee, to observe a "sabbath year" every seven? Do I take a year off and hope they'll rehire me? Is this even feasible in our modern culture?
Or does it even matter? The regular sabbath (the one day a week) is there for our benefit (c.f. Mark 2:27), but the sabbath year was to benefit the land, not for our own rest as workers. Which would seem to mean that if I'm not in a position to benefit "the land" by taking a year off, then the concept of a sabbath year doesn't really apply. It'd be keeping the letter of the law even though the spirit of the law isn't in view.
Leviticus 22 - "32 Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord, who made you holy 33 and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord."
I am distinct because God makes me holy, not because I'm smart or talented.