Sunday, February 13, 2011

Numbers 1-4 The Counting Begins

Numbers 1-4

We're starting book 4!
I'm going to set an aggressive reading schedule so we can get thru this quickly
Monday - 1-4
Tuesday - 5-9
Wednesday - 10-14
Thursday - 15-19
Friday - 20-25
Saturday - 26-30
Sunday - 31-36

This is were I lost interest last year when I tried to read the Bible on my own.  I'm much more motivated to read on thanks to this blog and the commenters.

God is preparing the Israelites for war.  All the tribes take a census to determine the number of males eligible to serve in the army except for the Levites, who are the priestly cast.
Numbers is very much about numbers!
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  1. Chapter 4 has very specific instructions on how to dismantle the tabernacle, and who was supposed to do it. I think that this rigorous specificitty would encourage the Israelites to regard the works with awe: "It must be important, because we have to be so careful with it!"
    Everything had to be covered with badger skins, which must have been hard to find in the desert, right? I can just see Moses going into Pier One and being told "We don't got no stinking badgers!"
    Sorry, but I am a Bogrt fan, and levity helps after reading Leviticus.
    Abbie, I really enjoy your historical comments.

  2. Here is what the Reformation Study Bible has to say about Numbers:

    Characteristics and Themes

    Two themes - the gracious faithfulness and the sovereign power of Israel's covenant God - are vital to the message of Numbers. The events of Numbers vividly portray the faithfulness of the covenant God despite the failures of an erring humanity. God directs His people as they prepare for their journey through the wilderness, comforts them in difficulties, deals with their fears and failures, and rebukes or punishes them when necessary.
    This portrayal of God's covenant faithfulness is in sharp contrast with the book's repeated depiction of human faithlessness, the utter failure of humanity to meet God's standards by its own strength. Human failures are clearly portrayed and contrasted with the wise measures of the ever-faithful covenant God. Even Moses, the greatest leader of all, sinned and was not permitted to enter the Promised Land, although he saw it from a distance. This shows that even the best of persons are still sinners and are saved only through the merits of Christ--salvation only comes through the grace of God.
    A second major theme of Numbers is the sovereign power of God in history. Despite imposing obstacles, great dangers, and the failures of His people, God brings them safely through the wilderness. His sovereign power is sufficient for every eventuality.
    Throughout the narrative, Numbers pictures the progress of God's people in redemption, pointing forward to Christ who is the true Water that makes life possible and the true Rock that provides safety. The work of Christ is foreshadowed by the typology of the red heifer (19:2-10; Heb. 9:13), the rock that provided water (20:11; 1 Cor. 10:4), and the raised serpent that brought life out of death (21:4-9; John 3:14,15). The specific prophecy of the conquests of David, the coming one who would defeat Israel's enemies (24:15-19), foreshadows the time when Christ, who is the consummate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, will universally be recognized as the greatest King of all.

  3. Although we're inundated with ... uhh ... numbers here, there are some nuggets here.

    - the rules for setting up and taking down the Tabernacle are interesting. @Barbara - I wondered about the badgers as well - just never got around to researching where they would come from.

    - another matrix reference at 3:12. I might have missed it - was Keanu Reeves in this story as well?

    - redemption money (3:47-50). Is this the first reference to some taxation scheme, or was there a recent mention of this. It looks like they're setting up a monetary system to replace the offerings for the priest, although I might be premature in positing this.

    A note on Prof. Hayes' Yale lectures: In Lecture 11, she expands on the idea of the J, E, P and D sources as being more "schools" of redactors instead of individual sources or authors. This makes sense, that there is a shared point of view that is applied across generations. Since some of our commenters (e.g. @Abbie) are more steeped in the Documentary Hypothesis and refer to it regularly, it's helpful for folks like me to remember that J et al are not necessarily one person, but more one common perspective.

  4. it's helpful for folks like me to remember that J et al are not necessarily one person, but more one common perspective.

    Oh, yes! There seems to be some debate, but I lean towards the "schools" camp. Richard Friedman seems convinced that each source was writ by a single author, who sat down and wrote their text out in one go. I completely disagree with him on that. I think J and E clearly built on and used earlier sources, especially in Genesis material. I think behind a lot of J sat a gifted writer, but one person couldn't be responsible for all of it. P is clearly the product of layers of accumulated tradition (a very specific tradition). E and D are related; the D material is from a tradition descendant from E.

  5. In 1:28 (and 2:33) God is all like "Don't number the Levites" and then in 3:14 God is all like "Okay number the Levites"


    I never noticed this partitioning of the Levites into Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites. I'll keep my eyes open for those names, but I don't remember them playing any role in the story.

    The description of the tribal camp arrangement is fascinating (actually, the only interesting stuff in these chapters). My annotated Bible hints that it may be based on ceremonies at pilgrimage festivals.

    I found a diagram of the encampment:

    Yeah these are four very boring chapters and I really can't come up with anything interesting.

  6. Last week when I thought Bruce had thrown in the towel, I found a different schedule online to read on my own, which was a little ahead of whichever one we're using. So I'm finally back on the same page. Thanks for listing the week's readings; that's really helpful for me if I want to read ahead. I know it's extra work, but can you try to keep up with that?

    Anyway, the numbers part of Numbers was pretty tedious, but the part about setting up the camps sort of reminded me of the really dry parts of some fantasy novels that are described in detail before they go to war with orcs or trolls or whatever.

    Does anyone remember the big ridiculous stink that some people made over the 2010 census, like it was some newfangled thing that Obama came up with on his own to steal freedom or something? I had a coworker who complained a lot about the very fact that there was a census at all. If he was still working here, I would print out this section and show him just how biblical and holy a census can be. Thank god he's no longer working here though. His conspiracy theories were just the tip of the iceberg. Anyway, my only point is that reading about this census reminded me of him.

  7. Wow, Chapter 1 is just like reading Book 2 of the Iliad (the most boring section of a thoroughly thrilling narrative). The form is almost identical:

    "Of the Boiotians Penelos and Leitos were captains, and Arkesilaos and Prothoenor and Klonios;. . . [detailed geography of where they dwelt]. . . Of these there came fifty ships, and in each one embarked young men of the Boiotians an hundred and twenty"

    It continues like that for I think almost 30 tribes of the Danaans. I learned that the purpose of this boring section comes from the medium of the Iliad's telling. It was part of an oral tradition in which epic poems such as the Homeric Epics were performed by a bard for a gathering of people, often as part of a festival. The bard would list the contributions of the particular people groups (tribes if you will) so that his audience could say "Yeah! That's us! Go you guys!" and feel connected to the story through their ancestors.

    Some suggest that the bard wouldn't include the entire list in every performance of the epic, it would be personalized for the audience. When the epic eventually got written down, all the different verses listing all the different tribes got included for completeness (reminds me of the extreme inclusiveness of the OT).

    The ancient Israelites certainly had an oral tradition as well. I think we discussed how we get glimpses of it in Genesis. I wonder if the purpose of Numbers 1 was similar. To me this seems to point to genre conventions of ancient literature/folklore that were shared throughout the Mediterranean.

  8. The two versions I have say nothing about badgers...bummer. One says goatskin, which makes more sense, and the other avoids the whole issue by just saying "covering." Does anyone know the original word and why the different translations?

  9. The word the KJV translates as "badger" (the NEB uses "porpoise"!) is תָּחַשׁ. My inter-linear Bible glosses it as "azure".

    It does not exist outside of the Tabernacle law in Exodus and Numbers and *one* quote in Ezekial.

    Interestingly, in Exodus its always plural, in the numbers text it isn't.

    I assume "badger" and "porpoise" are guesses. Unless there is a cognate in a related language, the meaning is irrevocably lost.

    So don't go building a tabernacle, you'll get it wrong!

  10. I rather liked the ship list in the Iliad. Spent several days as a kid working with an atlas figuring out where they all came from (this was pre-internet).

    As for the badger/porpoise skins, it isn't known what it was except almost certainly leather of some sort. The English transliteration of the word is Tahash. One midrash has it that the animal only existed to provide its skin for the tabernacle. BTW be wary of the wikipedia article on Tahash, it seems to be in the midst of an editorial dispute.

  11. Brian, thanks for the info on the Iliad. I've had it on my shelf for a couple of years. I think I'll tackle the Iliad and the Odyssey after the Bible!

  12. I also wanted to say that I appreciate seeing the reading "schedule" for the week. Even if you don't stick to it, it gives me an idea of how much I need to get through to keep up!