2 Kings, chapters 16-18

When he saw the altar that was in Damascus, King Ahaz sent Urijah the priest a plan of the altar, showing its pattern and how it was made. Urijah the priest built an altar according to all the directions that King Ahaz had sent […].
~2 Kings 16:10,11

Urijah knew that the original plans for the first altar had been given from Jehovah to David.
David’s son, Solomon, had carried out the blueprints precisely as indicated (2 Chron. 3:1; 4:1).
Urijah, however, allowed King Ahaz to overstep his authority and alter Jehovah’s instructions.

King Ahaz was an apostate.
“He did not do what was right in the eyes of Jehovah his God as David his forefather had done. […] He even made his own son pass through the fire,” (2 Ki. 16:2,3).

When King Ahaz returned from his trip, “he moved the copper altar that was before Jehovah from its place in front of the house, from between his own altar and the house of Jehovah, and he put it at the north side of his own altar. […] Urijah the priest did everything that King Ahaz had commanded” (2 Ki. 16:14,16).

When the congregation hands us instructions regarding our worship, do we see their divine origin, or do we consider them to be mere suggestions?
Do we alter Jehovah’s instructions because they do not appeal to us or because we think we can come up with a better form of worship?
And to what extent do we allow others to dissuade us from doing what we know Jehovah asks of us?

Urijah does not stand out in the Bible account as being a faithful priest.
He contributed to the demise of pure worship in his day.

2 Kings, chapters 9-11

“Jehosheba […] took Jehoash […] and stole him away from among the sons of the king who were to be put to death, keeping him and his nurse in an inner bedroom. They managed to keep him concealed from Athaliah, so he was not put to death.”
~2 Kings 11:2

Who was Athaliah, and why was she trying to put baby Jehoash to death?
I have facilitated my own understanding of this passage by drawing out this simple family tree of royal lines in Judah and Northern Israel at that time.

family tree royal lines ancient IsraelAthaliah was the daughter of evil Queen Jezabel and apostate King Ahab of Northern Israel.

She married into Judah’s royal line but did not change her family’s ways (1 Ki. 21:25; 2 Ki. 8:16,18).

When her son, King Ahaziah died, she put all her grandchildren to death, taking over the kingdom of Judah (2 Ki. 11:1).

However, she was unable to put one child to death: Jehoash, who was stolen by his aunt Jehosheba.

Jehosheba was a true worshipper of Jehovah God and she did not fear standing up to the evil Queen Athaliah, even at the risk of her own life.

She and her husband, High Priest Jehoiada, hid the baby prince Jehoash for six years (2 Ki. 11:3).

Then the high priest proclaimed him king (2 Ki. 11:12).

Consequently, evil Queen Athaliah was executed (2 Ki. 11:16).

What I find most encouraging about this passage is the valor and selflessness with which Jehosheba protected her nephew, undeterred by half her family’s bloody history or bad example.

She is a model for those women living in difficult family circumstances in which their faith in Jehovah is tested on a daily basis.

1 Samuel, chapters 1-4

“Then Elkanah went to his house in Ramah, but the boy became a minister of Jehovah before Eli the priest.”
~1 Samuel 2:11

A few years prior, when Elkanah’s sterile wife Hannah came before Jehovah to pray for a son, the high priest Eli had mistakenly made offensive comments to her, misjudging her for a drunkard (1 Sam. 1:10-14).

Her reply to him reflected a quiet and mild spirit (1 Sam. 1:15-18; 1 Pet. 3:4).

When Hannah’s prayer was answered and her child was ready to be weaned, neither her nor her husband held resentment against the house of Jehovah nor toward his appointed servants.

They understood that the center for pure worship was the tabernacle at Shiloh and did not restrain from taking their son to serve there (1 Sam. 1:21-25).

They had faith in Jehovah that he would look after their son and that it was the best place for him despite the imperfections of those serving there.

Likewise, we should not let the imperfections of others in the congregation deter us from offering ourselves up for greater service.

We may witness personality defects that could work as stumbling blocks, but we should continue to recognize Jehovah’s congregation for what it really is: the center for pure worship (Isa. 2:2,3).

If we do our part and leave the rest in God’s hands, we will surely be blessed, like in the case of Hannah and Elkanah (1 Sam. 2:20, 21; Mal. 3:10).

 

Judges, chapters 8-10

 Gideon made it into an ephod and exhibited it in his city Ophrah; and all Israel committed spiritual prostitution with it there, and it served as a snare to Gideon and to his household.
~Judges 8:27

When Gideon liberated the Israelites from the oppression of Midian, they tried to make him king (Jg. 8:22).

However, Gideon was not about to usurp on God’s sole right to rule, so he instead asked for material donations (Jg. 8:23,24).

He proceeded to use these donations to create an Ephod, which was an apron-like garment made of gold and precious stones, worn by the high priest on special occasions (Ex. 28:6-14).

Gideon, being a man of Faith, was apparently motivated by the desire to commemorate the unlikely victory Jehovah had granted Israel over its enemies (Jg. 7:20-22; Heb. 11:32,33).

How did this piece of commemorative art become a snare?

It detracted attention from the center of pure worship which was God’s tabernacle.

The Israelites commited “spiritual prostitution” in the sense that they bowed down to the ephod as if it were God, much to Gideon’s dismay.

What can we learn from this?
Good intentions do no always justify the means or the project.
We should be careful with our actions so that we never become a “stumbling block” to members of our community and our spiritual endeavors end up having an opposite effect (Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 10:23,24).

 

Numbers, chapters 26-29

These were the ones registered by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they registered the Israelites in the desert plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among them there was no one who had been registered by Moses and Aaron the priest in the census of the Israelites taken in the wilderness of Sinai.
~Numbers 26:63,64

After 40 years of roaming the desert, the amount of male Israelites had actually decreased instead of increased.

The previous generation of males had been kept out of the Promised Land because of their lack of faith, and they had all died out except for Joshua and Caleb (Nu. 14:30; 26:65).

Upon once again reaching the verge of entering the Promised Land, Jehovah commanded Moses and the new High Priest, Eleazar to take a second census.

So we are able to clearly see the effect the trials in the desert had on Israelite families.

Tribe 1st Census 2nd Census
Reuben 46,500 43,730
Simeon 59,300 22,200
Gad 45,650 40,500
Judah 74,600 76,500
Isachar 54,400 64,300
Zebulun 57,400 60,500
Manasseh 32,200 52,700
Ephraim 40,500 32,500
Benjamin 35,400 45,600
Dan 62,700 64,400
Asher 41,500 53,400
Naphtali 53,400 45,400
Total 603,550 601,730

Those trials included:

  • Israel being defeated by the Amalekites when they tried to conquer the Promised Land against God’s orders (Nu. 14:39-45)
  • Some Israelites rebelling alongside Korah against Moses’s leadership and then being miraculously executed by God (Nu. 16:20-50)
  • Many Israelites growing weary and complaining about being liberated, and then being punished with venomous snakes (Nu. 21:4-9)
  • Fornicating and tainting true worship through the young men’s association with Moabite women (Nu. 25:9)

One can only wonder what habits led some families such as the ones composing the tribe of Simeon to drastically drop to less than half of its original members while other families, such as the ones belonging to the tribe of Manasseh, increased its members by 64%.

Was it their predominant attitude? Were their household heads more inclined to support and collaborate with Moses? Did they value the privilege of forming a people to represent God more than the other tribes? Did the males organize worship in a constant, regular way? Did the knowledge that the older generation had that it was not going to enter the Promised Land not deter it from doing all it could to support its children’s future?

Today, we are living in the last days (Matt. 24:3-14; 2 Tim. 3:1-5).

Still, many grandmothers and grandfathers who have spent their lives working in favor of Jehovah’s interests may not make it alive into the promised New World (2 Pet. 3:13).

It is inspiring to see their self-sacrificing, restless effort which greatly benefits the spiritual well-being of their families and congregations.

Leviticus, chapters 14-16

[…] The goat designated by lot for A·za′zel should be brought alive to stand before Jehovah in order to perform the atonement upon it, so that it may be sent away for A·za′zel into the wilderness.
~Leviticus 16:10

The word “Azazel” seems to come from two Hebrew words.

Na·saʼ′ can mean pardon, take away, carry and in this instance, disappear;ʽez means goat (Insight, vol. ii, “Pardon”).

In effect, Azazel means disappearing goat, scapegoat, or as the Greek Septuagint translates it, “the one averting evil,” (Insight, vol. i, “Azazel”).

The High Priest of Israel was to enter the Most Holy, that is, the compartment of the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, only once a year.

There, he was to make atonement first for himself and his family, then for all of Israel (Lev. 16:12-16).

This occurred on the holiday known as Atonement Day.

This was the only day in which all of Israel was obligated to fast and ‘afflict their souls.’ They were prohibited from working on this day (Lev. 16:31).

There were two goats: one goat was sacrificed to Jehovah as a sin offering on behalf of the nation, and the other stood before Jehovah while the life of the sacrificed goat was symbolically transferred to the live goat through the blood it shed (Lev. 17:11).

Then the live goat was led away and set free in the wilderness, carrying off the nation’s sins, so to speak (Lev. 16:20-22).

The prophet Isaiah correctly applied this ceremony to what Christ was to do for mankind:

“Truly he himself carried our sicknesses,
And he bore our pains.
But we considered him as plagued, stricken by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgression;
He was crushed for our errors.
He bore the punishment for our peace,
And because of his wounds we were healed,”
(Isa. 53:4,5).

Therefor both goats represent one symbol: that of Christ shedding his blood for us, presenting it in Heaven before his Father, and through his atonement, carrying away the sins of repentant humanity (Heb. 9:11, 12).

The High Priest entering the Most Holy to make atonement for Israel represented Christ entering Heaven and making atonement for all of humanity.

The High Priest entering the Most Holy to make atonement for Israel represented Christ’s entering Heaven to make atonement for all of repentant humanity.

 

 

Exodus, chapters 27-29

“You will put the U′rim and the Thum′mim into the breastpiece of judgment, and they must be over Aaron’s heart when he comes in before Jehovah, and Aaron must carry the means for making judgments of the Israelites over his heart before Jehovah constantly.”
~Exodus 28:30

What were the Urim and the Thummim?
This is a question I have struggled with on a personal level throughout half my life, so I decided to once again review the articles explaining it.
According to the glossary in the Revised New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, they were “objects used by the high priest in a manner similar to the use of lots to determine the divine will when questions of national importance needed an answer from Jehovah. The Urim and Thummim were put inside the high priest’s breastpiece when he entered the tabernacle.”
The reason I struggle with their use in Biblical times is that the Bible clearly condemns the practice of divination, that is, the practice of gaining secret knowledge of events through supernatural occult powers (Deut. 18:10).
What was the difference, then, between the Urim and Thummim and the practice of divination?
While divination was a practice originating in ancient Babylon and which relied upon the guidance of spirits other than God, the Urim and Thummim were only used by the High Priest when he entered the Most Holy (Insight on the Scriptures, vol. i).
The Most Holy was the section of the Tabernacle the High Priest had to enter in order to ask Jehovah about matters of national relevance.
Before the Bible was completed, Jehovah had several means of communicating his will to humans.
These means included angelic messengers and prophecies revealed through dreams or visions to specific prophets.
Another form of interpreting God’s will was by basing decisions on principles stated by God in the past, which is the way we make decisions today.
Yet another form of interpreting God’s will back then was by casting lots, as was the case when the Promised Land was divided among the 12 tribes of Israel. (Nu. 26:55,56)
The Urim and the Thummim appear to have been sacred lots used under prayer that provided a “Yes”, “No,” or “No Answer,” reply to questions. (1 Sam. 28:6)
They were not used as a means of gambling or for trivial matters.
Since the High Priest was in charge of these sacred objects, the Kings who later came about in Israel and Judah would need to rely on consulting the High Priest before making important decisions.
This kept the king from having too much power (Insight on the Scriptures, vol. ii).
Nowadays, God’s People use the Bible to guide their steps, studying it under the prayerful direction of his Holy Spirit in order to better understand its message.
For “all Scripture is […] beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16,17)