|BIBLE STUDY SERIES #347, 348 and 349|
19 July, 1998
By Douglas C. Nesbit B.A.
Our series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has taken us down the generations of his progeny to the scene after they encamped at Mount Sinai, where the Tribes of the children of Israel were gathered to become a formal tribal nation. Now they have left the holy mountain and, as they make camp on the way to The Promised Land, they begin to find fault with the leadership, and express misery at the strains of the journey. The people desired meat, instead of manna, and God met their request by bringing flocks of quail on the wind, but He met their rebellious complaining natures with due response. Many suffered a great plague at Kibrothhattaavah for their error in departing from the divine provision of manna in favour of their lustful desire for meat.
By degrees, complaints and muttering had progressed from the fringe perimeter of the Camp of Israel inward towards the centre. Let us consider how far this spirit of a rebellious attitude may yet spread. We have reached Numbers 12, and we will begin our Scripture passage for today at Numbers 12:1:
1. And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
2. And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.
3. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)
4. And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.
5. And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.
6. And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
7. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.
8. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
9. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.
10. And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
11. And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.
12. Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.
13. And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.
14. And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.
15. And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.
16. And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.
So even Moses' older sister, Miriam, she who had led the women in rejoicing at the defeat of Pharaoh's troops after Israel had escaped across the Red Sea, now spoke up against something which Moses had done in marrying one not of his immediate family.
On this Scripture, The New Bible Commentary states, under the sub-heading "d. Rebellion among the leaders (xii. 1-16)" the following words: "Although it is bad for a leader to find disaffection in the rank and file of his followers, it is far worse when his leading subordinates begin to undermine his authority. In view of all that Moses had done for the Israelites he had every reason to expect his subordinates to respect and support him, and certainly he should have been able to count on those who had been elevated to high position on account of close relationship to himself. Yet here he finds his own brother and sister conspiring against him. The whispering campaign against Moses centred around his marriage, which was used as an excuse to arouse opposition to him. In the succeeding divine intervention God never bothered to make any refutation of this attack. God's powerful intervention condemns all attempts to stir up hatred between races. In Christ there 'is neither Jew nor Greek'."
The Commentary sounds well to this point. Indeed, the insertion of that last Scriptural reference as justification for the position asserted, may indeed seem "politically correct", or perhaps "religiously correct" to today's casual ear. However, I here find myself constrained to temporarily part company with the Commentary unless it is contending for the Israelite ancestry of Moses' wife, Zipporah. That quote "In Christ 'there is neither Greek nor Jew'" is simply, in my view, not otherwise appropriate to the argument which the Commentary is apparently attempting to present. It is not that I avert my eyes from the Scripture passage quoted. It is a true statement within its context, Colossians iii. 11, but I regard it as a singularly mis-directed attempt at substantiation of the foregoing generalization regarding Christ's intent for the whole world if the intent is directed to support Israelite and non-Israelite miscegenation. My reason for that assertion, (which may possibly upset some listeners), is that I must consider to whom the whole Epistle to the Colossians, and indeed to whom also the parallel Epistle to the Galatians likewise, is addressed, for it is from the former letter that the words are extracted, and from Galatians 3:28 we find the parallel wording "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus". In other words, all the afore-mentioned were Israelites, not miscegenated populations!
Colossae was a city of Phrygia in the Roman province of Asia. When those words were written by Paul, they were addressed to Colossians and likewise to the Galatians, who, as I have attempted to explain on a previous programme were, at least in large part, descendants of the deported Northern tribes of Israel. This fact is demonstrated knowledgeably by Peter when he also wrote to the "strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" as shown in I Peter 1:1, and to them among certain others, in I Peter 2:10, he applied specifically and directly, Hosea's uniquely applicable prophecy (Hosea 2:23) concerning the descendants of the same tribes of Northern Israel stock. They were part of the large Celtic populace spread across central Europe, some of whom, called Danoi by the Romans as they were of the Tribe of Dan, we would call 'Greeks'. Indeed, the Greeks of Sparta, through their King, wrote to the High Priest in Jerusalem, and asserted that they had through their ancient records discovered their descent from Abraham, and kinship with the Jews (Apocryphal Book of I Maccabees 12:2, 5-23 and Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XII, Chapter IV, Item 10). The Colossian reference to "Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free" ought to alert us, for the Scythians (who traded with the Greeks at the Grecian ports lining the Northern shore of the Black Sea) were it appears, allies to the Greeks, and perhaps kinsmen. It was at least in part, for that reason, that in preparation for his assault upon the Greeks that Darius sought to eliminate the threat of having them at his back, so to speak. Herodotus quotes the Scythians as testifying they were the youngest of nations (Herodotus: History, Volume I, Book IV, Chapters 5-7), and their name was Scoloti, a statement which appears to connect us to the reported origins of the Scots in the Arbroath Declaration preamble. "Scythian" was the Greek name for them.
Jesus Christ asserted unequivocally in John 6:37 that "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out" but in verse 44, He also stated "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." so there we can have assurances regarding unity within Christ's purposes for His people.
Now we ought, in fairness, to examine just who were the people of whom came Moses' wife, the person called in the AV an "Ethiopian woman", and to find out the possible connections in genealogical relationship which may affect our consideration on the matter. The Companion Bible note on "Miriam" states "Named first to show she was first in the rebellion. See v. 10. Cp. Gen. 3. 3. It also states of the word "Ethiopian" that "Ethiopian= Zipporah. Heb. Cushite. Arabia was in the land of Cush: or Zipporah (Ex. 2. 21) may have been of Cushite nationality, though territorially a Midianite."
The New Bible Commentary proceeds in these words: "It seems strange to read of Moses marrying an Ethiopian woman (1) since there has been no mention of the death of Zipporah, whom Jethro had brought to the camp not long before (Ex. xviii. 2-6); however, there is no later mention of her death, either. Kushi (used twice in verse 1) is the regular Hebrew word for Ethiopian and is often used in that sense (cf. especially Is. xx. 3-5). It has been suggested that in Gn. ii. 13 and x. 6-8 the word might refer not to Ethiopia, but to the Cassites, a people north-east of Mesopotamia. This interpretation could hardly apply here. the attempt has been made to show that the Kusi mentioned in an inscription of Esarhaddon (about 750 B.C.) were a North Arabian tribe, and hence could be equated with the Midianites. However, this evidence is extremely tenuous, and it is hardly likely that the wife referred to here can be Zipporah. the phrase 'for he had married an Ethiopian woman (1) does not sound like a reference to a marriage that had been in existence about forty years. Verse 2 shows the real reason for the attack. Aaron and Mirian were not content with second place. They desired the top position for themselves. This is not the way to secure Christian leadership, although many attempt it by this method. God will elevate those who are worthy. He who cannot be faithful in a subordinate position proves himself unworthy of a higher one."
Perhaps with that portion of the Commentary note, we may draw today's study to a close, leaving the observations just mentioned for this week's meditation.
26 July, 1998
By Douglas C. Nesbit B.A.
Our series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has taken us down the generations of his progeny to the scene after they encamped at Mount Sinai, where the Tribes of the children of Israel were gathered to become a formal tribal nation. In Numbers 12, they have left the holy mountain and, as they made camp on the way to The Promised Land, they had begun to find fault with the leadership, and express misery at the strains of the journey. Before we pick up our Scriptural account in the next chapter, perhaps we ought to make use of some well written words in The New Bible Commentary about the developments of Numbers 12, wherein Miriam and Aaron had been rebuked by The LORD for daring to claim equal authority with Moses whom God had selected as His spokesman.
We had read to the point in that reference at which comment was being made on this development. The Commentary continues regarding the words of verse 2 "The Lord heard it" in these comments "Troublemakers often forget that the Lord hears everything they say. This passage should be a reminder that He is always present, and that when He thinks best He will take decisive action, as in this case." Regarding the descriptive word "meek" which verse 3 applies to Moses, the Commentary says "Heb. 'anaw, i.e. 'humble', not thinking of his own prestige nor looking out for his own interests. The word does not mean simply that Moses was willing to stand aside for God to judge, but rather that he endured the attacks patiently, not seeking vindication for himself or his family. He was so occupied with looking out for God's glory and seeking to forward God's purposes, that he paid no attention to the unfair attacks upon himself. Doubtless Moses himself marvelled in later days that he could have taken this attack on himself and his wife without showing indignation. His meekness surpassed that of all others, perhaps even of himself at other times. Engrossed in the superhuman task of leading the people from Sinai to Kadesh, supervising their lives, executing necessary judgment over them, resisting rebellion, interceding for the nation, doubtless hoping in the very near future to lead them into the Promised Land, the honour of God loomed so great before his eyes that he showed a meekness about his own honour that is almost beyond belief."
We can imagine the restraint which permitted Moses so to act before both The Lord and the people, and I think the Commentary worth reading for a bit further yet. It states "This verse has frequently been misunderstood, some writers even saying that it could not possibly have been written by Moses, and alleging that he would have to be extremely egotistic to make such a statement. Actually, one of the strong evidences of the divine inspiration of the Bible is its remarkable objectivity. It clearly shows the faults and weaknesses of Moses and other leaders, and even of the entire nation, in such a way as can be paralleled in no other literature. Faults are not hidden or glossed over, nor is there any false modesty about presenting good points exactly as they were. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses did not hesitate to record his own sins and weaknesses in the clearest of languages. It would be contrary to the remarkable objectivity of the Bible if he did not also record his strongest point, his meekness. When Moses was standing for the honour of God, he was fearless and ready to overcome any opposition whatever. Attacks upon himself and his wife he took without a murmur, leaving it to God to vindicate him in His own time. While it cannot be proved that this verse is not an inspired insertion in the midst of Moses' writing, it is more likely that Moses wrote it himself, under the leading of the Holy Spirit. Its contents are necessary to a true understanding of the chapter. In normal times God may allow one of His servants, for the man's own spiritual good, to remain under a cloud of unjust accusation for a long time before he is vindicated. The present situation was too vital for that. It was necessary that Moses' leadership be upheld and vindicated at once. Although Moses took no step in his own defence (a fact which could not possibly be understood without the statement in verse 3), God suddenly intervened (4). He called Moses and his two detractors to come before Him. Then he called Aaron and Miriam apart and rebuked them directly (5). God pointed out the superiority of Moses to all other human leaders of His people (6-8). To others He might speak in a vision or in a dream; but to Moses He spoke face to face. God did not say that Aaron and Miriam had, or had not, received messages directly from Him. He simply pointed out the superiority of Moses to all other prophets, and then asked why they had ventured to speak against him." Incidentally, The Companion Bible notes of the words of verse 7, "My servant Moses" that this is the first occurrence of six such occurrences of the term in the Bible.
Here, the New Bible Commentary moves to verse 10, saying "When the cloud departed, Miriam was white with leprosy... . There is no mention of Aaron's receiving any punishment. Perhaps this means that Miriam was the real instigator of the conspiracy, and Aaron only an accomplice; or perhaps it was a greater punishment to Aaron to see his beloved sister smitten with leprosy than anything that could have happened to himself. His fervent plea (12) argues strongly, though not conclusively, for the latter suggestion." To this I might add the further suggestion that, while Aaron was all too human in his weaknesses, yet as Aaron was the High Priest, and thus was to be a symbol on the human level for the true High Priest, Jesus Christ, it would be inappropriate to impose a punishment of leprosy upon him. The symbolic implications of such a punishment would be exceedingly inappropriate considering the teaching symbolism in the position to which Aaron had been called, to say nothing of the immediate deprivation to the whole nation, including Miriam herself, of the continuing services of an High Priest in The Tabernacle. This aside, let us continue with the Commentary: It says: "Aaron's forthright confession of sin (11, 12) gives evidence of true repentance. He addresses Moses as 'my lord'. Never again do we have evidence of Aaron opposing Moses. Aaron is particularly concerned about his sister's leprosy. He sees her as one dead (12), so great is his love for her. Fervently he pleads for her restoration. Having sinned against Moses who is God's representative, he addresses his prayer not to God, but to the man against whom he has sinned. Without a word of rebuke, Moses turns to God and pleads for his erring sister (13). This is Moses' only action in the entire chapter. Although reviled, he reviled not again, but rather prayed for his detractors. Who can deny the exact truth of the character given him in verse 3? God shows reluctance to deny a request from Moses (14). It would seem that the leprosy was removed, in response to Moses' intercession, but the seven-day period of isolation which follows cleansing of leprosy must be observed. See Lv. xiv. 8."
I would interpose my own comment at this point. We ought to note those true words of the Commentary carefully, for the direction of Aaron's request is justly appropriate because it is only the wronged party who can offer the primary forgiveness for any wrong-doing. As an example, suppose someone stole a quantity of money from you. A person who was not a participant in the matter could not walk up to the thief and say "I forgive you for stealing that person's money." It would not be appropriate, for it is not their right to do this seeing they were not the wronged party. The forgiveness is directly related to the wrong or the loss, because it is that person who was hurt, who renounces their claim for restitution or punishment upon the one who has damaged their property, their person, or their good name.
God, as the Judge may indicate acceptance of the move by the victim to forgive, and establish it for the record, but the judge cannot initiate such forgiveness from the bench before that move on the part of the victim because, apart from such a move, the role of the judge is to impose an appropriate application of the law. If a judge were to announce such forgiveness it would remove from the victim the right to initiate that forgiveness and leave the victim without even that compensation which such an act would grant to the victim's good name or right to avoid injury to person or property.
The comments by The New Bible Commentary continue: "The offence is too serious for punishment to be remitted entirely. An example must be made to deter others. Also it is desirable to give Miriam time to realize fully the extent of her sin. Thus the Lord delivered the camp from this dangerous rebellion against Moses' authority... ." That is the end of the Commentary's insights on Numbers 12. I might add as a final note that at verse 14, The Companion Bible gives of the term "spit in her face" (Heb. "had spitted a spitting") the meaning "treat with contempt." Miriam's seven days confinement outside the camp is connected by that Companion Bible note with the law found in Lev. 13:4, 5, 21 and 26.
That may serve as food for thought and meditation for the coming week. We will proceed on the next study in our present series with an examination of Numbers 13. However, from time to time, it is good to make a diversion from the usual material, so next week, I plan to digress from our ongoing sequence of Bible Studies, in order to bring you a Summer Parable which I hope that you will enjoy.
2 August, 1998
By Douglas C. Nesbit B.A.
Today, I want to diverge from our normal sequence of Bible Studies to recount a small experience with a wonderful parallel. I have a home in the suburbs, and in my garden, I happen to have quite a large number of wild black raspberry bushes, of the long caned variety. The birds must have planted these raspberries along with the apple tree which has grown there, and the mountain-ash which bears berries that the birds eat. Under God's Great Plan, just as in the Garden of Eden, He allows the spread of plants bearing seed to provide food for mankind.
While I did not plant these raspberries, I was delighted to discover their fruit. These are quite common across temperate lands of North America, Europe and Asia, so most listeners will know their characteristics.
However, as our programme reaches far afield by short wave, perhaps I ought to add a few words of description for those less familiar with this fruit. Raspberries, particularly black raspberries, are by many considered quite a delightful food, but their collection involves certain techniques. The Raspberry is a relative of the rose family, and in common with other members of that family it possesses stems or canes forming bushes which are absolutely covered with little prickly needle-sharp thorns which claw at one's clothing and stab and scratch one's skin as, having thrust in an arm to search out the berries, one attempts to disentangle oneself with the prize.
These berries begin to show themselves as small green immature knobs, which later enlarge to bright red, then a purple red, and finally, often within a matter of a few hours, a full engorged shiny black berry which is ready to leave its moorings on the stem at the touch of one's fingers, and which needs only the barest nudge to part from its support. This facilitates both its reaping, and if clumsy, its disappearance amidst the thorny stems and shadows to the ground beneath. For this reason, particularly where one gently pushes back a few leaves to disclose perhaps five or six of these swollen black beauties together on a stem, one is tempted to carefully pass a container beneath the lot before attempting to cull them. As it happens, the weather this summer has provided an unusually bountiful crop.
Now I have recently held interesting conversations with friends and neighbours concerning the possibility of computer problems, which just conceivably might place a temporary premium upon self-reliance in the matter of household supplies and amenities at the beginning of the year 2000 A.D and at this point I should digress briefly to explain some terms. The abbreviations "A.D." meaning "anno Domini", or "Year of Our Lord" and "B.C. meaning "before Christ" are the traditional terms designating historic dates if one respects Christ as LORD. The relatively recently introduced substitutes, "C.E.", meaning "Christian Era" and "B.C.E.", meaning "before Christian era" are often used by archaeologists and some historians who despise the former usage and wish to assert humanist sophistication. The still more recent usage "Y-2K" goes further. The "K" is a computer term taken from the Metric System, which means, of course "kilo", or "1,000", so terming the year 2,000 by use of "Y" for "year", and "2K", makes the computer connection to potential calendar problems at the start of that year 2,000 A.D., and incidentally ignores the centrality of Christ in history.
During those discussions it occurred to me that a prudent course of action might be to learn just how to preserve my berry crop for later use. I generally find success follows study, so I decided that (having never married) I ought to acquire at least a working knowledge of the requirements.
To this end I obtained some mason jars and the lids for these glass containers which are designed to draw down when a vacuum forms after hot preserves are placed into the sterilized glass jars drawn carefully from the boiling water. You may wonder that I had not until now acquired the full knowledge of the processes involved, but I had in the past been content, as are many city dwellers, to purchase canned or processed foods from the grocery stores, and leave it to others to prepare such supplies professionally.
You may wonder how the Kingdom of God enters the picture, and this I will explain as my story unfolds. Having obtained the requisite supplies and the various ingredients, I set to work to mash the berries as is required in the instructions and prepare the steps in the process of providing a little food for the future. As the days followed, I began to realise the bounty of the harvest which The Lord had given, and I saw that I had better continue to certify my independence by my newly acquired skills.
Now what follows can only really be appreciated by those who have had the same or a related experience. Mosquitoes hover within and about the berry bushes, and they are a constant distraction. This, coupled with the clawing thorns and the desire to reach an especially attractive cluster of berries, particularly to a point almost beyond one's ability to balance makes for a challenge to one's dexterity. On one particular rather dull morning, the combination of these factors caused a minor catastrophe, for, in combination, the lack of balance, the mosquitoes, and the thorns, brought about a sudden movement of my arm to draw back and readjust my position. You might guess what followed. The plastic container snagged on a thorny stem and was wrenched from my grasp, tumbling downward to disappear amidst the thorn filled canes and shadows beneath. In any circumstances, black raspberries residing within a tangle of grass, moss, and deep shadowed stems are hard to see, let alone to retrieve. On peering down, I was dismayed to see that at least half of the entire contents of the morning's crop had dumped from the container!
A question arose. Was I to just leave it all and walk away? Was I to retrieve only that meagre portion of my crop which had remained within the container, and that might be gingerly retrieved if careful to avoid too many thorns? Or was I to get to work and retrieve my whole supply, which had taken perhaps the best part of an hour to collect? Now my friends know that I tend, in such a circumstance, to rise to a challenge, and on this occasion, somewhat bull-dog-like (some might suggest stupidly!) I took on the task of attempting to retrieve the lot.
My friends who know my habitual accouterment will doubtless laugh at what follows, even while expressing sympathy and understanding. Bending down, I managed to allow my shirt pocket full of pouched pens, pencils, personal cards, driver's license and glasses to unexpectedly slip into the deep tangle, joining the berry supply beneath. Now the war was fully engaged! I had to retrieve the lot, even at the expense of berry stains on my shirt, thorn pricks and clawed scratches on my hands, and moss, leaves and grass on the berries.
I will end my tale by assuring everyone that I felt a sense of victory and relief when I was done, even though my hands were scratched by the thorns, my shirt headed for the laundry, and myself for the shower. I think that I had managed to trample down some of the stems in the process, and certainly others were the worse for the battle, but I believe that I had culled back every berry that was lost, and added thereto several bunches hanging on low hidden stems which, unseen, I might otherwise have passed over. All will go into the preserving process after a good wash and careful inspection. I had obtained my object and far more, for I had also collected an experience with a moral worthy of a sermon.
As I was bent to the task of retrieving what had been lost, it suddenly came into my mind that Our LORD has done exactly this with all of us. He had made his selection, as the Genesis account describes, in the creation of Adam and Eve in the beautiful protected Garden of Eden, but they with their progeny implicit within them, much as the berries responded to gravitation within the plastic container, had been snagged by self will and to the choice of the shadows, and so fell to the thorns outside of the containing garden.
What was God's choice? He could have walked away and left the mess to rot, and start again. But He chose, and how thankful we must be for that choice, to re-create the relationship with the fallen. Much as I had to commit my right arm to the clawing thorns of the berry bushes, it cost Him the descent of Jesus Christ, His Incarnate aspect, His Son, to the sweat, the blood stains and hurts of thorns and nails, the shame of maltreatment, and the temporary loss of status in Glory. He was ready to go the whole way, not only into the thorns and brambles, but, in a far greater work than just retrieving berries, to retrieve each of us. It was done on a scale incomparably greater, yet the moral is encapsulated in my short story. He was willing to yield up His glory, in order to reach down to those who had fallen, and whose end might have been to rot in the silent dark beneath. He had, and even now has, however, the immense satisfaction of finding the lost, and retrieving all of those who are His own from the dirt, the impediments, and the seemingly inaccessible shadows. We become in His hand, a part of His body, to the ultimate satisfaction of us all. Christ at the Cross provided not only the redemption of His Israel people, of whom many today are of Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred ancestry, but the added opportunity of "whomsoever will" for He said, in John 6:37 "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
I hope that my short account of the experience in the berry patch will be of comfort and use to others. May each who hears of it delight in my humorous, yet painful predicament, and relish it in the parallels which will doubtless occur to each. May we find in such experiences a short sermon from the Hand of The Almighty, to give us fresh attitudes and a renewal of kindness as we move towards the day of His appearing at the Second Advent.
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