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19 The Eternal One told Moses and Aaron about purity rituals.
Eternal One: 2 I want to remind you about a decree of instruction by My command: “When they need to make a sin offering, instruct the Israelites to bring a young female cow, red in color, that is perfect in every visible way and has never worked. 3 Hand it over to the priest, Eleazar. He will then oversee its slaughter outside the camp, 4 dip his finger in the blood, splatter the blood seven times in the direction of the congregation tent’s opening, 5 and make sure that the carcass is burned, every bit of it—hide, flesh, blood, and dung. 6 While the cow burns, the priest will throw onto the fire some aromatic woods—cedar and hyssop—bound together by scarlet thread. 7-8 Afterward, the priest should carefully wash himself and his clothes; then he can reenter the camp. Likewise the one who burns the fire should also wash himself and his clothes. But recognize that they are ritually impure until that evening. 9-10 Someone else, someone ritually pure, should collect the ashes that remain from the completely burnt offering and put them all in a ritually pure place outside the boundaries of the camp. Then that person, too, should wash his clothes and understand he is ritually impure until evening. The ashes will be used to make a cleansing solution for the Israelites. This is a sin offering.
Remember and observe this perpetual statute concerning ritual contamination and cleansing, which applies to the foreigner who lives among you as well as to all native Israelites: 11 Anyone who touches a dead human body will be considered impure for a week. 12 Midweek and at the end, on the third and seventh days, he will use the burnt offering ashes dissolved in water to purify himself. If he fails to do so, he will not be pure. 13 This is a serious business, for everyone who comes into contact with a human corpse must purify himself like this. Otherwise, he pollutes My tent and so must be banished from Israel. If he has not been doused with the special cleansing water, his impurity still clings to him. He is impure.
14 Now if someone dies indoors, then everyone entering or inside the tent will be impure for the full seven days. 15 Not only that, but any cup, jar, or bowl that is open or didn’t otherwise have a cover attached when that person died will also be impure. 16 Out in the countryside, the same general rule applies. If someone happens to touch a person either killed outright or who simply died naturally, or if he touches a single human bone or a whole gravesite, he shall be impure for the week. 17 For such a person, take some of the aforesaid ashes mixed in a container with running water. 18 A person who is ritually pure should then dip a hyssop branch into the water and splash some water on the contaminated home—and on all the things in it and the people, too—or on the person who touched a corpse or some part of a dead person. 19 The ritually pure person must do this for the impure individual on the third and seventh days. Then he must purify himself, washing his body and clothes in water, so that he’s pure when it becomes evening on the seventh day.
20 Those who don’t so purify themselves shall be cast out of the community because they have scorned and polluted My holy place. Since the cleansing water hasn’t been splashed on them, they are impure. 21 This is a perpetual decree. The person who sprinkles the water and the one who touches the water for impurity also needs to wash his clothes after handling the cleansing water and will be ritually impure until evening. 22 Everything any impure person touches will be impure and make others who touch it impure, too, until evening.
20 After the Israelites, the whole group of them, journeyed into the Zin Wilderness during the first month, they set up camp in Kadesh. And it was there that Miriam died and was buried.
2 They ran out of water and again blamed their leaders, Moses and Aaron.
Israelites (arguing with Moses): 3 It would have been so much better if we had simply died along with the rest of our relatives, Korah, Abiram, and Dathan, right in front of the Eternal One.[a] 4-5 Why in the world would you drag us, the Eternal’s own group, out of Egypt into this wilderness where we’ll soon die and our livestock too? And there aren’t any grains, figs, grapes, or pomegranates, and there isn’t even any water!
Will these people never learn? But why should they be any different than the rest of us? We all tend to forget God’s provision, and we focus on the challenge before us. God has been leading them through a region full of challenges. You would think that after 40 years of daily provision from God in the wilderness these people would quit fearing the worst, especially since they have already gone through this very same experience once before—when they came out of Egypt in Exodus 17. Unfortunately, Moses doesn’t follow God’s instruction just as it is delivered to him, so he, too, is unfaithful. Instead of “provision” or “water-of-plenty,” the place is known as Meribah (“rebellion”). They are to remember their lack of faith and their active rebellion against God their savior every time they mention this place.
6 After hearing them out, Moses and Aaron walked away. At the congregation tent’s opening, they collapsed to the ground, interceding for the people. Then and there, the Eternal’s glory shone for them to see, 7 and He spoke to Moses.
Eternal One: 8 You and Aaron grab the staff before the covenant chest, gather the whole group so that all the people can see and hear you, and speak to the rock. Tell it to release its water for them to use. In this way, you’ll get water from the rock for everyone to drink, including all the animals.
9 So Moses did that. He took the staff just as God told him to do. 10 Then he and his brother gathered all the people in front of the rock.
Moses (to the Israelites): Listen up, you rebellious lot. Should we get water for you from this rock?
11 And as he spoke, Moses raised his hand and hit the rock—once, twice—and immediately the water came gushing out. All drank their fill, people and animals alike. 12 But the Eternal One scolded Moses and Aaron for their actions.
Eternal One: Because you didn’t trust Me and treat Me as holy before the Israelites, you will not lead this group into the land I have given them.
13 Because at this spot the Israelites rebelled against the Eternal and the display of His holiness, the water here is called Meribah, which means “rebellion.”
14 Also while in Kadesh, Moses sent a message to the Edomite king.
Kadesh (“holy”) is the place where God was not treated in a holy manner by the Israelites, including Moses and Aaron. And neither do Israel’s ancient relatives from Esau, the Edomites, who shared a common ancestor with Israel—Isaac.
Moses’ Message (to the king of Edom): Greetings from your brother, Israel. You’ve heard how hard these past years have been for us; 15 how in the midst of famine, our ancestors journeyed down into Egypt; and how after settling there a long while, the Egyptians began to treat our ancestors and then us harshly. 16 The Eternal heard and answered our pitiful cry, actually sent a messenger and led us out of Egypt. Now here we are in Kadesh, right at the border of your country. 17 Would you please grant us permission to cross through? I promise that we won’t take anything from your seeded farmland or cultivated countryside. Nor will we drink from your wells. We will stick to the main road, the king’s highway, and not step off it either to the right or left until we’re well past your country’s limits.
Edom’s Message: 18 No. If you so much as put a foot in our territory, we’ll attack you.
Israelites’ Message: 19 But we will keep strictly to the highway and pay you if any of us or any of our animals drink any water, only let us pass through.
Edom’s Message: 20 Absolutely not.
At that point, the Edomites indeed came out in force, fully armed, against the Israelites. 21 This response proved there was no negotiating with Edom for passage, so the Israelites turned to go another direction.
22-23 The whole Israelite community packed up and left Kadesh. They journeyed to the edge of Edomite territory, to Mount Hor, specifically.
Eternal One (to Moses and Aaron): 24 Because you two didn’t follow My orders back at the waters of Meribah, it is time for Aaron to die and be with his ancestors. 25 So bring Aaron, along with the son who will be his successor, Eleazar, up to Mount Hor. 26 There, you shall strip Aaron of his priestly garments that distinguish him as the priest of priests and put them on Eleazar. There, Aaron will join his ancestors in death.
27 With a heavy heart, Moses did just as the Eternal One had instructed. These brothers, now old, slowly made their way up Mount Hor while the whole community watched. 28 When they reached the top, Moses stripped Aaron of his priestly robes and put them on Aaron’s son, Eleazar. And Aaron died there. Then Moses and Eleazar went back down the mountain. 29 Understanding that Aaron was dead, the family of Israel wept for 30 days.
In the time of Jesus, Jewish life is centered in the temple in Jerusalem. Priests are responsible for the temple’s activities—which include receiving religious pilgrims and their sacrifices (cattle, sheep, goats, and doves). Animal sacrifices may sound strange to a modern society, but in the ancient world, they are quite common. The slaughter of animals is a daily experience; it is part of any meal that includes meat. So this meal brings together the Jewish family from near and far, seeking to affirm their connections to the one true and living God. Their gift of animals is their contribution to the meal. (The priests, by the way, are authorized to use the meat for the sustenance of their families.)
The presentation of the blood and meat of these sacrifices is accompanied by a number of prescribed rituals, performed by priests wearing prescribed ornamental clothing, according to a prescribed schedule. As the story continues, these solemn rituals are interrupted in an unprecedented way.
1 1-3 For those who love God, several other people have already written accounts of what God has been bringing to completion among us, using the reports of the original eyewitnesses, those who were there from the start to witness the fulfillment of prophecy. Like those other servants who have recorded the messages, I present to you my carefully researched, orderly account of these new teachings. 4 I want you to know that you can fully rely on the things you have been taught about Jesus, God’s Anointed One.
5 To understand the life of Jesus, I must first give you some background history, events that occurred when Herod ruled Judea for the Roman Empire. Zacharias was serving as a priest in the temple in Jerusalem those days as his fathers had before him. He was a member of the priestly division of Abijah (a grandson of Aaron who innovated temple practices), and his wife, Elizabeth, was of the priestly lineage of Aaron, Moses’ brother. 6 They were good and just people in God’s sight, walking with integrity in the Lord’s ways and laws. 7 Yet they had this sadness. Due to Elizabeth’s infertility, they were childless, and at this time, they were both quite old—well past normal childbearing years.
8 One day Zacharias was chosen to perform his priestly duties in God’s presence, according to the temple’s normal schedule and routine. 9 He had been selected from all the priests by the customary procedure of casting lots for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter the sacred precincts of the temple. There he burned sweet incense, 10 while outside a large crowd of people prayed. 11 Suddenly Zacharias realized he was not alone: a messenger of the Lord was there with him. The messenger stood just to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was shocked and afraid, 13 but the messenger reassured him.
Messenger: Zacharias, calm down! Don’t be afraid!
Zacharias is a priest working in the temple, but priests don’t normally hear from God. Those who hear from God are called prophets, not priests. One becomes a priest by being born in a priestly family line. Prophets, on the other hand, arise unpredictably and have no special credentials except the message they carry. So Zacharias has no reason to believe his duties will be interrupted in this way. Often in the biblical story, when people receive a message from God—after getting over the initial shock—they start asking questions. They push back; they doubt.
Messenger: Zacharias, your prayers have been heard. Your wife is going to have a son, and you will name him John. 14 He will bring you great joy and happiness—and many will share your joy at John’s birth.
15 This son of yours will be a great man in God’s sight. He will not drink alcohol in any form;[a] instead of alcoholic spirits, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is in his mother’s womb. 16 Here is his mission: he will turn many of the children of Israel around to follow the path to the Lord their God. 17 Do you remember the prophecy about someone to come in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah; someone who will turn the hearts of the parents back to their children;[b] someone who will turn the hearts of the disobedient to the mind-set of the just and good? Your son is the one who will fulfill this prophecy: he will be the Lord’s forerunner, the one who will prepare the people and make them ready for God.
Zacharias: 18 How can I be sure of what you’re telling me? I am an old man, and my wife is far past the normal age for women to bear children. This is hard to believe!
Messenger (sternly): 19 I am Gabriel, the messenger who inhabits God’s presence. I was sent here to talk with you and bring you this good news. 20 Because you didn’t believe my message, you will not be able to talk—not another word—until you experience the fulfillment of my words.
21 Meanwhile the crowd at the temple wondered why Zacharias hadn’t come out of the sanctuary yet. It wasn’t normal for the priest to be delayed so long. 22 When at last he came out, he was making signs with his hands to give the blessing, but he couldn’t speak. They realized he had seen some sort of vision. 23 When his time on duty at the temple came to an end, he went back home to his wife. 24 Shortly after his return, Elizabeth became pregnant. She avoided public contact for the next five months.
Elizabeth: 25 I have lived with the disgrace of being barren for all these years. Now God has looked on me with favor. When I go out in public with my baby, I will not be disgraced any longer.
Psalm 56 brings to mind the time when David fled from Saul and sought help from the Philistines, his former enemies (1 Samuel 21:10–15). In his time of panic and fear, David found courage in trusting God to do what could not be done by human power and ingenuity alone.
1 Show mercy to me, O God, because people are crushing me—
grinding me down like dirt underfoot—all day long.
No matter what I do, I can’t get myself out from under them.
2 My enemies are crushing me, yes all day long, O Highest of High,
for many come proud and raise their hands against me.
3 When struck by fear,
I let go, depending securely upon You alone.
4 In God—whose word I praise—
in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in,
for what can measly men do to me?
5 All day long they warp my words;
all their thoughts against me are mangled by evil.
6 They conspire, then lurk about.
They eye my every move,
Waiting to steal my very life.
7 Because they are wicked through and through, drag them out.
In Your just anger, O God, cast them down!
8 You have taken note of my journey through life,
caught each of my tears in Your bottle.
But God, are they not also blots on Your book?
9 Then my enemies shall turn back and scatter
on the day I call out to You.
This I know for certain: God is on my side.
10 In God whose word I praise
and in the Eternal whose word I praise—
11 In God I have placed my trust. I shall not let fear come in,
for what can measly men do to me?
12 I am bound by Your promise, O God.
My life is my offering of thanksgiving to You,
13 For You have saved my soul from the darkness of death,
steadied my feet from stumbling
So I might continue to walk before God,
embraced in the light of the living.
8 Those who do right are pulled from trouble;
it falls on wrongdoers instead who are left to sink in their own problems.