Friday, 5 March 2010

Heavy Going

If we were to have a competition to find the most tedious and irrelevant chapter in the Bible, the seventh chapter of Numbers would be a strong candidate.
It describes the offerings brought to the tabernacle when it was dedicated. The leaders of the twelve tribes brought in their offerings on twelve consecutive days. There were silver plates, silver basins full of fine flour, gold dishes full of incense, and a number of bulls, lambs, rams and goats.
Again, the question arises: where did they get all this gold and silver in the middle of the desert, and where were the plates, basins and dishes made? But the most striking thing is that although all the twelve offerings were identical the list, which takes up five verses, is repeated word for word twelve times! I suppose the point was to show that all the twelve tribes had equal status, or perhaps it was originally meant to help people learn the list by heart - whoever it was who needed to know it by heart.
But what can we honestly say it means to us today? How do these plates and basins and dishes, and all these poor animals brought for slaughter 3000 years ago, have any interest for us? What benefit do we get from reading it, apart perhaps from training in patience?
Just before this, at the end of chapter 6, is the blessing that 'Aaron and his sons' were to give to the people, those beautiful words that are valued as much today as they were then: 'The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace'.
How can this and chapter 7 be equally 'the word of God'?