Friday, July 13, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 017

Leviticus 24:10-22

Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and this Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought each other in the camp. And the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord and cursed; and so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) Then they put him in custody, that the mind of the Lord might be shown to them.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.

“Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the ger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.

‘Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal.

‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. You shall have the same law for the ger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.’ ”

What Does It Say?

This passage is one of the most revealing and complex of all that we have come across so far. There are some challenges to interpreting the mindset of the author, so take what I say with a larger grain of salt that usual. I'll try to make my personal interpretation clear and leave room for other opinions.

Let's start with the obvious: no one is exempt from the law, Israelite or ger. Ger are also required to take part in stoning blasphemers to death.

It's also interesting that this law on blasphemy is included in a list of "eye for an eye" punishments. The implication that blasphemy is so terribly wicked that the only equally appropriate punishment is death. Just as the perfectly proportionate punishment for the destruction of an eye is the destruction of the offender's eye, so the the perfectly proportionate punishment for blaspheming the Lord and Creator of Life is the death of the offender.

Let's look at the more debatable stuff about race mixing now.

The passage starts with the explanation of a legal case. The son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man gets into a fight with an Israelite man, and, in the heat of the moment, blasphemes the name of the Lord. It's something we might even find a bit understandable - perhaps he simply lost control of his tongue.

It's not clear where his father is in all this. As the Israelites were recently slaves in Egypt, it's possible the boy is the product of a rape. It's also possible his Egyptian father followed the Israelites out into the wilderness. There is some evidence in Exodus that the people who left Egypt were not purely Israelites. Exodus 12:38 says that "A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock." The words translated as "mixed multitude" are ereb rab.

Ereb is used mostly in the Bible to refer to mixed cloths - think a polyester-cotton blend. However, it is also used  in Nehemiah 13 to refer to Ammonites and Moabites who had been "mixed" into the Israelite population. Specifically, verse 3 says that these mixed-in people had to be removed. So we know it can refer to a ethnically mixed population. Rab is a more general term used to describe an abundance or great number.

There's also some mathmatical evidence for extended race mixing in Egypt that I'm not going to go into detail on. Here's a link to a blog discussing it (I'm not vouching for the blog, just the math in that post).

If this is the case, it definitely informs our understanding of race mixing in the Bible. While there are many passages where interracial marriage is shown in a negative light (the incident with Phineas springs to mind), these instances are always explicitly mixed with concerns of religious mixing. So if we have this example of interracial marriage being perfectly fine when there's no concern of faith mixing, it clarifies the Bible's stance.

There are of course plenty of individual instances of mixed-ethnic marriages in the Bible, including Moses' previously discussed marriage, and several women in Jesus' own family tree. But it would be interesting if it was happening commonly in the background, not just in special exceptions.

In the interest of fairness, we should say that there is no overwhelming evidence in the Bible for large-scale intermarriage. And even if it was normal at the time of the Exodus due to the Israelites living in Egypt, I'm not familiar with any evidence (so far) that it was normal after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. If anything, taboos against intermarriage seem to increase in Cannan due to the hostile and unrepentantly pagan people surrounding Israel, as well as the tendency of the Israelites to fall into idol worship.

Still, the lack of explicit condemnation of intermarriage per se would indicate it was allowed even if not common.

Next: Leviticus 25

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 016

Leviticus 23:22

‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the ger: I am the Lord your God.’ ”

What Does It Say?

No, that's not a typo, this verse is almost identical to Leviticus 19:10. This time it comes directly after a list of regulations for the Feast of Weeks, aka Shavuot. It's part of a chapter 23's descriptions of all the various holidays of the Hebrew calendar.

The Feast of Weeks is also sometimes called the Feast of Reaping, as it takes place during the time of the wheat harvest. That's likely why the commandment is repeated here: it's a reminder to make provisions for the poor and the stranger as we celebrate the bounty God has given to us.

As such, it serves as a good reminder that our blessings come from God, and that God wants us to love others as He has loved us. Our treatment of other people should be a reflection of how we believe God treats us.

Is our God a loving God? Then we should be loving. Is our God a just God? Then we must not pervert justice in favor of the poor or in favor of the rich. We make provisions for those who cannot feed themselves just as God feeds us, those who depend on Him.

Next: Leviticus 24

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 015

Leviticus 22:17-19

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the ger in Israel, who offers his sacrifice for any of his vows or for any of his freewill offerings, which they offer to the Lord as a burnt offering—you shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. 

What Does It Say?

Leviticus 22 mostly deals with priestly regulations: who can offer sacrifices, who can partake of the sacrifices, and what can be sacrificed. We see here that ger can also sacrifice freewill offerings (voluntary sacrifices not required by the law) or sacrifices promised to the Lord in a vow.

In other words, the ger are not cut off from the worship of the true God. They are included in the spiritual life of Israel. This "Judaism" (something of a misnomer) is not an exclusive ethnic club. While the nations around Israel are unclean, it is due to their rejection of the law of God, not because of their heritage - otherwise, they could not have approached the altar.

Next: Leviticus 23

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 014

Leviticus 20:1-5
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the ger who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name. And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives some of his descendants to Molech, and they do not kill him, then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from his people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Molech.
What Does It Say?

Leviticus 20 is also mostly a list of prohibitions, with one distinct difference from Leviticus 19. Whereas Leviticus 19 has a mixture of both positive and negative commandments (a mix of "do this" and "don't do that"), Leviticus 20 is a list of offensive that warrant the death penalty. In addition to the section quoted above, the chapter lists other capital offenses, such as:

-Consulting familiar spirits (spiritism)
-Cursing your parents
-Adultery
-Incest

Now, a few of these commandments specify that a person who does these things shall be 'cut off' and some of them specify stoning as a method of execution. I suppose you could argue that 'cutting off' is a form of exile, but it's also used to describe the people who perished in Noah's Flood (Gen. 9:11). Most likely, it just means that the method of death does not need to be stoning. In fact, the penalty for consulting a spirit medium is that God Himself will cut off the offender (v. 6).

Molech, of course, is a Canaanite diety who was worshiped by human sacrifice. So 'giving your descendants to Molech' does not mean consecrating them to the worship of the false god, but rather burning them in an unholy sacrifice. This shows why the offense of Molech worship was so evil that it required the death penalty, whether the offender was a native Israeli or a ger.

Once again, we see that ger are particularly required to observe the same religious laws as the Israelis in order to dwell in the land.

Next: Leviticus 22

Monday, July 9, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 013

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-10, 33-34
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
...
‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the ger: I am the Lord your God.
....
‘And if a ger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The ger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were ger in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

What Does It Say?

Leviticus 19 is another list of various laws and regulations, mostly about how the Israelites are supposed to treat each other. There are a few various laws regarding sacrifices (v. 5-8; 20-22)), idol worship/divination (v.4, 26-28, 31) and a few kosher regulations (v. 19, 23-25), but the overall theme of the passage is how to maintain holiness. As verse 2 says, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."

Part of holiness is how we treat the ger, the ethnic outsider. One of those ways is by providing a form of charity for the poor and the marginalized. By not harvesting the entirety of the field, we leave a small portion for those who have no land of their own (the book of Ruth shows and example of how this works out). By not being greedy for everything that is "ours" by right, we show holiness.

Now, notice that God doesn't require us to give all that we have to the poor (though those that do are called blessed in the New Testament). And also notice that the poor and the ger still have to go and gather the crops we leave for them. But the principle of leaving a way for the poor and the ger to take care of themselves is still there.

Verses 33 and 34 are even more intense in describing the type of love we are supposed to have for the ger. The ger, the non-Israeli who lives in the land is to be treated "as one born among you." While they are often marginalized, needing to glean the leftovers from the field, they are not second-class citizens. Moreover, we are to love them in the same way we love ourselves.

The word translated here as "love" is ahab, and it covers a wide variety of 'loves.' It describes everything from the romantic love that Jacob felt for Rachel (Gen. 29:18) to Issac's love for a good stew (Gen. 27:14) to the love that God has for His people (Deut. 4:37) and the love that we are supposed to have for God (Deut. 6:5, "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might").

And while we're not called to love the ger will all our hearts, souls, and might, and while the ger are expected to live by the same civic and religious laws as the native-born, there is absolutely no room given here for hating them or driving them out solely on the basis of ethnicity. This too, is part of being holy as God is holy.

Next: Leviticus 20

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 012

Leviticus 18:24-29

‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any ger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
What Does It Say?

The first half of Leviticus 18 deals with sins of a sexual nature, and the list is a doozy. After warning the Israelites not to be like the Egyptians of Canaanites, the Lord unloads the following  prohibitions:

1). No sex with those who are "near of kin."
2). No sex with your step-mom ("father's wife")
3). No sex with half-sisters (your father or mother's daughters)
4). No sex with your grandchildren (your son's daughter or daughter's daughter)
5). No sex with your aunt (father's sister or mother's sister)
6). No sex with your uncle or your uncle's wife (your father's brother or his wife)
7). No sex with your daughter-in-law
8). No sex with your sister-in-law (brother's wife)
9). No sex with a mother/daughter pair
10). No sex with a grandmother/granddaughter pair
11). No sex with a woman's sister while the woman is still alive.
12). No sex while a woman is menstruating
13). No adultery
14). No sacrificing your children/grandchildren (descendants) to Molech
15). No profaning the name of God
16). No gay sex (specifically, lying with a male as with a woman).
17). No beastiality
18). Also, no beastiality for women.

I'll just leave this here.
Now, there's plenty to unpack in that list (for example, homosexual sex is the only one of the above acts described as "an abomination," meaning it's worse than incest), not the least of which being that most of the above are wildly popular fetishes in our day. But there's two things that should stick out in our mind here:

1). This is all stuff that the Canaanites were doing on the regular. This should make us feel better about them getting wiped out.
2). All of this stuff is horrible enough in God's eyes that it justifies a genocide.

God says that these things are bad enough to cause the land, the earth itself to vomit a people out of it. And God implies that allowing resident aliens to engage in this behavior will bring the natives under the same judgement. These actions defile the land itself, whether performed by ger or natives.

So we see a further restriction of ger's "freedom of conscience." The ger are not free to perform their sexual abominations (or religious abominations, vis-a-vis child sacrifice) in the midst of God's people. This is not presented only as a violation of Divine Commandments, but as a violation of the natural order.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 011

Leviticus 17:8-16

“Also you shall say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the ger who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from among his people. 
‘And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the ger who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’ Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any ger who dwells among you eat blood.’ 
“Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the ger who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust; for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’ 
“And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a ger, he shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt.”

What Does It Say?

Leviticus 17 is mostly given over to laws concerning the shedding of animal blood. The earlier part of the chapter deals with God's command that all animals killed be brought to the tabernacle as a sacrifice. This is specifically mentioned as a means to prevent demon worship in verse 7.

I'm going to read into the text a bit, but the logic seems to be that you have to keep track of all the animals killed. If people are out killing animals however and whenever they want, it's a lot easier to offer sacrifice to a false god. But if everyone has to bring the dead animals to the tabernacle, it's harder to offer an animal as a burnt offering to Moloch or whoever.

This commandment (and all the further prohibitions dealing with animal blood) are extended to any ger living in the camp. And it's interesting that this law deals specifically with the camp and the tabernacle, meaning that it's a law that's specifically already in effect during the 40 years of wandering. This would imply that there are already ger living in the camp who are not native-born Israelis (certainly Moses' wife would be one).

Also of interest here is that these laws would prevent ger living among the Israelites from worshiping their gods with sacrifices. So whatever religious freedom would theoretically exist in Israel would not extend to animal sacrifice or consuming animal blood. It also does not exempt ger from cleanliness laws, such as the need to be ritually purified after touching the carcasses of animals that died of natural causes (verse 15-16).

These verses also seem to imply that circumcised ger still count as ger. After all, no uncircumcised male would be permitted to offer sacrifices to God at the tabernacle. So the fact that both the natives and ger are required to bring their sacrifices to the temple implies that ger with access to the tabernacle are still considered ger.