John, chapters 7 & 8

“Stop judging by the outward appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
~John 7:24

Jews sought to kill Jesus because he miraculously cured a man on the sabbath. (John 5:8,9,15,16)
Their worship was based on a strict literal interpretation of Mosaic Law and rabbinic traditions.
It neglected the Law’s foundations: justice, mercy and faithfulness.(Prov. 21:3; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:8; Matt. 23:23)
Judging with “righteous judgment” implies not believing everything we see or hear, and treating others fairly, regardless of their social status. (Is. 11:3,4)
If we are so concerned with proving we are right that we act recklessly toward others, we could become ritualistic in our form of worship, forgetting that the gist of God’s law is to love. (Matt. 22:37-40)

Nehemiah, chapters 12 & 13

“So I reprimanded them and called down a curse on them and struck some of the men and pulled out their hair and made them swear by God: ‘You should not give your daughters to their sons, and you should not accept any of their daughters for your sons or yourselves.'”
~Nehemiah 13:25

Was Nehemiah’s reprimand toward the Jewish men who had married pagan women a cruel overreaction?
To answer this question, let’s look at other Bible passages that warned the Jews against this practice.
“But if you […] form marriage alliances with them […] They will become a trap and a snare and a scourge on your flanks and thorns in your eyes until you have perished from this good land […]”(Josh. 23:12,13).
“For they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods; then Jehovah’s anger will blaze against you, and he will swiftly annihilate you.”(De. 7:4).
Because the Jews could not count on God’s protecting them as a People if they married pagan women, obedience to this particular mandate was a matter of life or death.
It implied the survival of the nation to which the Messiah would eventually be born (Luke 12:48).
This is why Nehemiah deemed it necessary to urgently carry out a form of discipline common to their day: corporal punishment.
“If the wicked one deserves to be beaten, the judge will have him lie down prostrate, and he will be beaten in his presence. The number of strokes should correspond to the wickedness of his deed,” (De. 25:2).
“Bruises and wounds purge away evil, and beatings cleanse one’s innermost being,” (Prov. 20:30).
“And everyone who does not observe the Law of your God and the law of the king should have judgment executed on him promptly, whether it is death, banishment, a fine, or imprisonment,” (Ezra 7:26).
Though this is definitely not an exercise in supporting corporal punishment toward one’s neighbor, one can understand how Nehemiah’s actions as governor of the Jews would not have been seen as extreme as a reader may find them today.
Jehovah promptly corrected His People through Nehemiah because he loved them (Heb. 12:6).
Their lifestyle would have otherwise brought about His disapproval and as a result, their own annihilation.

2 Chronicles, chapters 29-32

“Then Hezekiah appointed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their divisions, each of the priests and Levites for their service […]”
~2 Chronicles 31:2

While reading this, you might ask yourself, weren’t all the priests Levites?
How is it that they were classified into two groups?
In many Bible passages the term “priests” refers specifically to males who descended from Aaron.
Though all of these priests belonged to the tribe of Levi, the term “Levites” refers to all of the other males in the tribe, the priests’ assistants.
The Levites were therefor organized into four groups:

  1. The priests, who descended  from Aaron, who descended from Kohath.
  2. The other descendants of  Kohath, who were in charge of the sacred furniture of the tabernacle.
  3. The descendants of Gershon, who were in charge of the linens within the tabernacle.
  4. The descendants of Merari, who were in charge of the framework of the tabernacle.

(Ge. 46:11; Nu. 3:25, 26, 30, 31, 36, 37).

All the Levites had to be familiar enough with Mosaic Law to teach it to others (2 Chron. 17:7-9).
Also, their tabernacle duties transferred to the temple once it was built (1 Chron. 23:24-32).
What I gathered from this reading is that whatever my personal assignment is within Jehovah’s organization, I should cherish the privilege of serving him and collaborating with brothers and sisters working in different capacities.
Our spiritual work should be free of envy or resentment because we are all working for the same God and the same cause.

2 Chronicles, chapters 25-28

“Then Uzziah was laid to rest with his forefathers, and they buried him with his forefathers, but in the burial field that belonged to the kings, for they said: ‘He is a leper.'”
~2 Chronicles 26:23

Kings were traditionally buried in tombstones between the rocks.
Though Uzziah had been a good king, he became haughty toward the end of his life and so God struck him with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16, 19, 20).
As a leper, he lived out his days in isolation, cut off from his palace and reign (2 Chron. 26:21).
When he died, he was buried in the cemetery belonging to the kings, but not in a tombstone between the rocks.
He was buried in the ground, most likely on account of his leprosy and the Mosaic Law’s strict quarantine rules (Nu. 5:1-4).
A plaque was even found in Jerusalem containing the inscription: “Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah, king of Judah. Not to be opened,” (“Uzziah 3.” Watchtower Online Library. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, June 2015. Web. Jan. 3, 2016).
Such relatively extreme measures protected the people from likewise contracting the disease.
They also highlighted the need to respect that which is holy.
God no longer strikes his earthly representatives with ailments when they sin, as he did in this rare case.
It is still important, though, to serve him with a modest attitude and a pure heart (Mic. 6:8; Jas. 1:27).
Such an attitude not only protects one’s self, but the entire congregation.

Ruth, chapters 1-4

“I will do for you everything that you say, for everyone in the city knows that you are an excellent woman. While it is true that I am a repurchaser, there is a repurchaser more closely related than I am. Stay here tonight, and if he will repurchase you in the morning, fine! Let him repurchase you. But if he does not want to repurchase you, I will then repurchase you myself, as surely as Jehovah lives.”
~Ruth 3:11-13

By the time the widowed Ruth approached her benefactor, Boaz to request he perform brother-in-law marriage with her, it is obvious he had already given the matter significant thought.

Through his reply, one can infer that he had taken enough notice of Ruth to ask others about her personality and reputation, and he had also taken into account her personal circumstances (Ruth 3:17).

He did not, however, rush into a relationship with Ruth, since he recognized that there was another man who legally had first choice regarding marrying Ruth and acquiring her first husband’s inheritance (Ruth 4:3-6).

Boaz, despite his power and feelings, did not overstep this law.

He took into account God’s instructions regarding the marital arrangement, setting a fine example for us, demonstrating that true love is based on principles.

Judges, chapters 11-14

“Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor should touch his head, because the child will be a Nazirite of God from birth, and he will take the lead in saving Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”
~Judges 13:5

When reading about Samson and how he scraped honey out of a lion carcass and how he killed 30 Philistines and then took their garments, I wondered if this was not in direct conflict with his being a Nazirite (Jud. 14:8,9,19; Nu. 6:1-7).

Nazirites were individuals who vowed special dedication to Jehovah during certain periods of their lives, and they had a set of restrictions governing their conduct .

One such restriction was that they were not to come in contact with a dead body (Nu. 6:6,7).

In Samson’s case, however, those restrictions did not apply.

Because he was divinely appointed a Nazirite since before his birth, his conduct was only governed by the restrictions the angelic harbinger had indicated to his parents (Jud. 13:3-5,13,14).

 

Deuteronomy, chapters 19-22

“If someone is found slain in a field of the land that Jehovah your God is giving you to possess and it is not known who killed him, […] the elders of that city should lead the young cow down to a valley running with water where no tilling or sowing of seed has been done, and they should break the neck of the young cow there in the valley.”

~Deuteronomy 21:1, 4

To be honest, this passage shook my faith.

Why did the young cow have to suffer punishment if it had nothing to do with the murder?

Under the law, if the community did nothing about the murder, the elders of that community could be held accountable by God as having blood on their hands (De. 21:8; De. 22:8).

The ceremony with the heifer provided a concrete way of demonstrating to everyone in the surrounding areas that the murder had been officially investigated and remained unsolved.

The passage explains:

“Then all the elders of the city who are nearest to the dead body should wash their hands over the young cow whose neck was broken in the valley, and they should declare, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. “‘Do not hold this against your people Israel, whom you redeemed, O Jehovah, and do not let guilt for innocent blood remain among your people Israel.'”Then the bloodguilt will not be held against them.”In this way you will remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst by doing what is right in Jehovah’s eyes.”(De. 21:6-9)

If the murderer was later identified, he (or she) would still have to die on account of his (or her) actions (Nu. 35:30-33).

After discussing this bygone law with a brother in my congregation, he reminded me that sacrifices under Mosaic Law foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice: that of Christ (Heb. 10:5-10).

And like the innocent heifer whose life was taken as a result of human-spun injustice, so was Christ’s life taken as a result of humanity’s wrongdoings (Heb. 9:12-14).

The principle involved in this law is that human life is precious and its loss needs to be atoned.

We see the modern-day application of this principle when a congregation forms a committee to investigate the cause of death that was a result of one of its member’s actions.

For example, if the death was a result of a traffic accident, was the congregation member speeding? Was he (or she) distracted?

In such a case, the body of elders holds a judicial case in which they may decide to limit the member’s privilege to participate in certain activities (Matt. 18:15, 16; Gal. 6:7; 1 Pet. 3:16; 5:3).

Numbers, chapters 30-32

Regarding any vow or any oath involving an abstinence vow to practice self-denial, her husband should establish it or her husband should annul it.
~Numbers 30:13

Under Mosaic Law, if a married Israelite woman made a vow to God, she had to communicate that vow to her husband that same day.

As head of the household, her husband had authority to either establish or annul the vow.

At first view, it seems God did not trust married women to make their own decisions, which could offend some of us.

However seeing it from a financial perspective it makes sense, because it was the husband’s responsibility to make ends meet and so any vow incurred by his wife might affect the family as a whole.

Let’s say for example that the wife vowed to donate 20% of the harvest instead of just the 10% the tithe required.

Now let’s imagine that in that year it did not really rain so there was not much grain to harvest and now they have more than five starving kids to feed.

It would make sense that the husband had the authority to annul his wife’s vow, ‘bearing the consequences of her guilt,’ (Nu. 30:15).

By requiring the vow to be communicated to her husband, the wife was also pressed to think twice before saying compromising things out of sentimentalism that were not thoroughly calculated.

Christian women are not obligated to have their husband’s approval before they enter spiritual compromises.

Many women in the first century converted to Christianity even when their husbands were unbelievers (1 Pet. 3:1).

However, the husband is still considered head of the household, so it is still wise on the part of a wife to communicate her decisions to him either before or soon after taking them, yielding to his advice whenever reasonable (Prov. 13:10; Acts 5:29; 1 Cor. 11:3).

She would thereby demonstrate respect for both Jehovah and her spouse and contribute to the whole family’s success.

Numbers, chapters 4-6

[…] In the case of a man who becomes jealous and suspects his wife of unfaithfulness; he should make his wife stand before Jehovah, and the priest must carry out toward her all this law.

~Numbers 5:30

This passage stirs up negative feelings in me, so this post might come off as more subjective than others.

When an Israelite man suspected that his wife had been unfaithful to him but there were not enough witnesses, he had to bring her to trial before the priests and Jehovah.

There he was to offer “a grain offering of jealousy,” his wife had to publicly swear that she had been faithful to him, calling a curse upon herself in the case that she was lying, and then the priest would pick up dust from the tabernacle floor, put it in clean water and have her drink the water (Nu. 5:14-26).

I have read this passage a few times but have a hard time reconciling why God would put a woman through what seems to me an abuse of power and public humiliation when it was just as likely that she was innocent.

I therefor decided to investigate this law in more detail in order to gain a better understanding of it.

The law called on God to act as ultimate judge. The water she drank did not have special powers; it simply symbolized that the oath had been taken before Jehovah in a sacred place.

It was normal back then, even more so than it is today, for a sexually active woman to bear children.

But the curse the woman called down upon herself asked God to intercept this natural process by making her barren.

If the woman’s ‘abdomen swelled and thigh fell away,’ she would henceforth be incapable of having children, meaning God had found her guilty and he had punished her himself (Nu. 5:27).

This act of divine intervention would be the equivalent of a miracle- a negative miracle, seeing it from the woman’s perspective.

Now, obviously for this curse to be tested out, the husband had to have sexual relations with his wife. If she did not swell up and eventually ‘conceived and produced offspring,’ that would be testament of her innocence (Nu. 5:28).

I still have trouble assimilating the trauma and social stigma this exposed a woman to, the frustration she must have felt if she suspected him of being unfaithful, not having a law to process that, plus the lack of a way to identify the male adulterer in cases where the woman was in fact an adulteress.

However I have to note that there is a great deal of wisdom behind the law which basically required the man to lie down again with his wife.

From a marriage perspective, when a couple lies down together after a serious argument, it triggers something in one’s psychology that presses one to forgive the spouse and move past that obstacle in the relationship. It is what is colloquially called “make-up sex.”

Also the time that passed while trying to conceive allowed the couple to try to work their problems out over several months, instead of just recurring to divorce or stoning.

At this point I would like  to note that jealousy in itself is and always has been a sin, so if the accused woman bore a child, her husband was publicly regarded as having been wrong (Gal. 5:19,20).

And that can be pretty hard on a guy’s ego.

There are a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios that must have arisen when this law was enforced, questions that modern fertility tests would answer for us impartially and without the need for divine intervention.

Certainly Mosaic Law did have its limitations, and where these laws fell short, justice became a matter of faith (Rom. 8:3).

For “there is only one who is Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy. But you, who are you to be judging […]?” (Jam. 4:12).

 

 

 

 

Numbers, chapters 1-3

They [Moses, Aaron and his sons] were responsible for taking care of the sanctuary as their obligation in behalf of the Israelites. Any unauthorized person coming near would be put to death.
~Numbers 3:38

God has assigned responsibilities as he sees fit within the congregation.
Or as Ephesus chapter 4, verse 8 puts it, “he gave gifts in men.”

Isaiah chapter 32 verse 2 describes the role these men play:
[…] Each one will be like a hiding place from the wind,
A place of concealment from the rainstorm,
Like streams of water in a waterless land,
Like the shadow of a massive crag in a parched land.

In order to shepherd the flock and oversee worship, these imperfect men make decisions and arrangements which are not always popular with the entire congregation.

However, as the aforementioned text highlights, when a person encroaches the responsibilities and decision-making power of those whom God has chosen to lead, either by manipulation or physically taking matters into their own hands, God views it as a very serious sin.

We do best to submit to God’s arrangement, cultivating patience and humility, contributing to the congregation’s well-being by demonstrating a cooperative spirit, even when we do not fully understand all the underlying factors or dynamics that affect the congregation’s functioning  (Eph. 4:2,3; Phil. 2:2-4).