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4 The Eternal One spoke to Moses and Aaron.
A census can be ominous or encouraging. Sometimes everyone on the list has to die before a new generation can take the land (chapter 1), but sometimes, like in this chapter, it is an occasion to highlight God’s people, the Levites.
Eternal One: 2 From among the Levite clans, organize Kohathite men by their extended families 3 between the ages of 30 and 50, who serve in the congregation tent. 4 They are the ones who shall deal with the most sacred objects associated with the congregation tent. 5 When it’s time to break camp, follow these instructions: Aaron and his sons shall take down the screen curtain and cover the covenant chest. 6 Over that, they shall lay a sea-cow skin,[a] and over that, a pure blue cloth. They shall then slide in the chest’s poles. 7 Regarding the table that displays the offerings, they shall spread it with a blue cloth and set the bowls, ladles, cups, pitchers for the drink offering, and regular bread on it. 8 This they shall cover with a crimson cloth, and over that a sea-cow skin. And they shall slide in its poles too. 9 Regarding the seven-branched lampstand, they shall cover it—the lamps, tongs, fire pans, and all the oil receptacles used with it—with a blue cloth. 10 They shall put it and all its furnishings in a sea-cow skin and set that on the frame for carrying. 11 Concerning the golden altar for incense, they shall cover it first with a blue cloth, and over that with a sea-cow skin. They shall insert its poles. 12 Likewise, all of the furnishings used in sanctuary service should go into a blue cloth, be covered with a sea-cow skin, and set on a carrying frame. 13 They will need to empty the fat ashes from the burnt offering altar before spreading a purple cloth over it. 14 Then load all the things used with it—the fire pans, long forks, spatulas, and basins—and cover the whole with a sea-cow skin. Then they shall slide in the poles. 15 When Aaron and his sons are done covering all the holy objects and furnishings, then and only then (so that they don’t touch the sacred things and die), the Kohathites can approach. They are the ones who shall transport these items of the congregation tent. 16 Aaron’s son, Eleazar, shall be responsible for the oil used for light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, the oil used for anointing, the whole congregation tent, and every holy thing within it, including each and every furnishing.
17 (continuing instructions to Moses and Aaron) 18-19 Take special care to pack everything well so that the people of the Kohathite clans are not killed on account of touching the most sacred things when they shouldn’t. Aaron and his sons can direct each person’s role and their transportation of the items. 20 The Kohathites should never look on the sacred things for even a moment, or else they’ll die.
21 (continuing instructions to Moses) 22-24 Add up the Gershonites, ages 30–50, by their extended families and clans. These are the ones who shall perform the following specific tasks required for the congregation tent: 25 They shall be responsible for transporting the tent curtains, the congregation tent with its covering and the sea-cow skin over that (as well as the screen for the tent’s entrance), 26 the hangings for the courtyard area, the screen at the entrance gate of the designated area around the tent and altar, the ropes, and everything they need for service. And they shall do whatever is needed to maintain and care for these things. 27-28 These Gershonites shall answer to Aaron the priest and his sons (particularly Ithamar) with respect to what exactly they should carry and do; and you shall assign into their care what they need to carry. This is what the Gershonite clans are to do concerning the congregation tent.
29-30 Number the Merarites in the same way—those ages 30–50 by extended families and clans, whoever qualifies to work for the good of the congregation tent. 31 They are to carry the following things (and that’s all they need to do for the congregation tent): the tent framework with its bars, pillars, and foundations; 32 the pillars of the courtyard area along with their bases, pegs, ropes, and all their furnishings and related items. Specify each object that each one must carry. 33 That’s all the Merarite clans need to do for the congregation tent. They’ll answer specifically to Ithamar (the son of Aaron the priest).
34-37 So Moses, Aaron, and all the heads of the community did as the Lord had instructed. They organized the Kohathites by the clans and the extended families, ages 30–50, who were eligible to work on behalf of the congregation tent and found that there were 2,750. 38-45 The Gershonites whom Moses and Aaron organized by each clan and extended family numbered 2,630; and the Merarites—3,200. 46 All were listed from the Levites organized by Moses, Aaron, and the heads of the families, 47 who were between the ages of 30 and 50 and capable of performing their designated congregation tent tasks of maintenance and transportation, 48 numbered 8,580. 49 Each one had a job specified by the Eternal One and dictated through Moses. Each one was recorded by his job as the Eternal had commanded Moses to do.
5 The Eternal One spoke to Moses.
Now that the arrangement of the camp, the ordering of the families, and the organization of their defenses is complete, God begins sanctifying the people. Because this camp is a holy place—a place where God has chosen to dwell among His people—purity is an obvious concern. But beyond the religious regulations, concern for cleanliness and rules for social interaction are essential because of the vast number of people traveling together. There are more than 600,000 males over the society’s average age of 20 years, and logically these men make up one-quarter of society. The laws given to the people are not simply religious instruction, but are necessary for the good morale and accompanying social concerns of such a large population, concerns such as transmission of diseases, mistreatment of individuals, and suppression of crime.
Eternal One: 2-3 Tell the Israelites to send outside of the camp anyone, male or female, who is ritually unclean and could spread it to others, namely those with skin lesions, and discharges, or who have touched a dead person. They need to stay outside of the camp in order not to ritually contaminate My dwelling place among them.
4 The Israelites did exactly that and sent them outside the camp, just as the Eternal told Moses.
5 The Eternal One continued.
Eternal One (to Moses): 6 Tell the Israelites that sinning against each other is just like abandoning Me. All incur guilt, men and women alike. 7 He or she must confess, then pay back in kind (if the crime is robbery, or some material offense) what he or she has cost to the wronged person and add one-fifth more. 8 If there are no people in the wronged party’s immediate family to receive the payback, then it should go[b] to the priest along with a ram, which the guilty party shall supply as an atonement sacrifice. 9-10 The priest also gets anything an Israelite donates. Sacred gifts, anything—they then belong to the priest who receives them.
11 (continuing instructions to Moses) 12 Tell the Israelites that if a married woman sneaks off to commit adultery, 13 that is, if a man has sexual relations with her but her husband doesn’t know, even if no one can say for certain that she tarnished herself because no one saw or caught her, 14 and her husband feels suspicious and becomes jealous, whether or not she’s guilty; 15 then he should bring his wife to the priest along with the requisite offering: two quarts of barley flour. Because it’s an offering for this particular purpose, jealousy (namely, a grain offering that brings back to mind some kind of wrongdoing), he shouldn’t include any oil or incense with it.
16-19 Then the priest will set her in front of Me, mix dust from the congregation tent’s floor into a jar of holy water, and loosen her hair. He’ll make her take an oath and hold the grain offering of jealousy while he holds the curse-causing, bitter water and says, “If you are innocent of this charge, if no man had sexual relations with you, if you didn’t reject your husband’s authority and tarnish yourself; then let this bitter water have no curse on you. 20 But if you are guilty of rejecting your husband’s authority and having sexual relations with someone other than your husband,” 21 [here the priest should make the woman say the cursing-oath], “then may the Eternal One make your name a shunning reproach, an insult or a warning among the people, because you will have a miscarriage[c] and your belly will swell. 22 If you are guilty, may this curse-causing water run through your bowels, make your belly swell, and your womb miscarry.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Let it be so.”
23 The priest will write these curses on a scroll and wash the words into the bitter water. 24 He’ll then make the woman drink the bitter water that will run right through her, causing terrible pain. 25 The priest will take the barley-flour jealousy offering that she was holding, raise it up high before the Me, bring it to the altar, 26 burn a handful (a memorial portion) of it into smoke on the altar, and then make the woman drink the water. 27 The effect (much pain with her belly swelling and her womb miscarrying) or lack thereof will show whether or not she’s guilty of marital unfaithfulness. If guilty, her name will be a curse among the Israelites. 28 If innocent and pure, she’ll be free from the water’s effects and still be able to have children.
This judgment ritual is a mixture of dust or ash and water to bring objectivity to the accusation of adultery on a wife. The result is either clearing her name or confirming the claim against her. The administration is reserved for the priest, and the results are final.
Eternal One: 29 This is what should be done in a jealousy case, when a woman is rejecting her husband’s authority and sleeping with other men, 30 or simply if her husband gets jealous and suspicious of her. The husband will bring her before Me, and the priest will enact this law. 31 The man shall not be charged with anything or considered to have done wrong; the woman must deal with the consequences of her behavior.
Jesus turns the question back on them. It isn’t about taxes. It is about knowing and being faithful to the one true God.
18 Later a group of Sadducees, Jewish religious leaders who didn’t believe the dead would be resurrected, came to test Jesus.
Sadducees: 19 Teacher, the law of Moses tells us, “If a man’s brother dies, leaving a widow without sons, then the man should marry his sister-in-law and try to have children with her in his brother’s name.”[a]
20 Now here’s the situation: there were seven brothers. The oldest took a wife and left her a widow with no children. 21 So the next oldest married her, left her a widow, and again there were no children. So the next brother married her and died, and the next, and the next. 22 Finally all seven brothers had married her, but none of them had conceived children with her, and at last she died also.
23 Tell us then, in the resurrection [when humans rise from the dead],[b] whose wife will she be? For all seven of them married her.
Jesus: 24 You can’t see the truth because you don’t know the Scriptures well and because you don’t really believe that God is powerful. 25 The answer is this: when the dead rise, they won’t be married or given in marriage. They’ll be like the messengers in heaven, who are not united with one another in marriage. 26 But how can you fail to see the truth of resurrection? Don’t you remember in the Book of Moses how God talked to Moses out of a burning bush and what God said to him then? “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”[c] “I am,” God said. Not “I was.” 27 So God is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are sadly mistaken.
28 One of the scribes who studied and copied the Hebrew Scriptures overheard this conversation and was impressed by the way Jesus had answered.
Scribe: Tell me, Teacher. What is the most important thing that God commands in the law?
Jesus: 29 The most important commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Eternal One is our God, and the Eternal One is the only God. 30 You should love the Eternal, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”[d] 31 The second great commandment is this: “Love others in the same way you love yourself.”[e] There are no commandments more important than these.
Although Jesus is asked for only the single most important commandment, He answers by naming two commands: love God and love others. He includes both because these two teachings can never be really separated from each other. Some people think they can love God and ignore the people around them, but Jesus frequently makes it clear that loving God apart from loving His people is impossible.
Scribe: 32 Teacher, You have spoken the truth. For there is one God and only one God, 33 and to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves are more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice we could ever give.
34 Jesus heard that the man had spoken with wisdom.
Jesus: Well said; if you understand that, then the kingdom of God is closer than you think.
Nobody asked Jesus any more questions after that.
35 Later Jesus was teaching in the temple.
Jesus: Why do the scribes say that the Anointed One is the son of David? 36 In the psalms, David himself was led by the Holy Spirit to sing,
The Master said to my master,
“Sit at My right hand,
in the place of power and honor,
And I will gather Your enemies together,
lead them in on hands and knees,
and You will rest Your feet on their backs.”[f]
37 If David calls Him “Master,” how can He be his son?
The crowd listened to Him with delight.
1 The Eternal is great and mighty, worthy of great praise
in the city of our True God, upon His holy mountain.
2 Situated high above, Mount Zion is beautiful to see,
the pleasure of the entire earth.
Mount Zion, in the north,[a]
is the city of the great King.
3 In her palaces, the True God
has revealed Himself as a mighty fortress.
4 Not long ago, enemy kings gathered together
and moved forward as one to attack the city.
5 When they saw Mount Zion, they were amazed;
amazement became fear, then panic. They fled for their lives.
6 They were overtaken by terror, trembling in anguish
like a woman in childbirth.
7 God, You shattered the ships of Tarshish
with the mighty east wind.
8 As we have heard stories of Your greatness,
now we have also seen it with our own eyes
right here, in the city of the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies.
Right here, in our God’s city,
the True God will preserve her forever.
9 We have meditated upon Your loyal love, O God,
within Your holy temple.
10 Just as Your name reaches to the ends of the earth, O God,
so Your praise flows there too;
Your right hand holds justice.
11 So because of Your judgments,
may Mount Zion be delighted!
May the villages of Judah celebrate!
12 Explore Zion; make an accounting,
note all her towers;
13 Reflect upon her defenses;
stroll through her palaces
So that you can tell the coming generation all about her.
14 For so is God,
our True God, forever and ever;
He will be our guide till the end.
26 As vinegar vexes the teeth, and as smoke irritates the eyes,
so a slacker annoys his boss.