Reading the story of numbers

It's been a while since I have written, and no doubt some have been sighing in relief, thinking "good thing." And some others have perhaps thought I should write more. Perhaps.

It's been a difficult time, and I have been uncertain what to write. But here I am. I am apparently incapable of keeping quiet for long.

I have been thinking about some of the strange things I read in the Bible, some real puzzlers, and how they affect my acceptance or rejection of scripture and the God presented there. It's clear that there are some things that make no sense to me or probably most of us reading from the perspective of a modern society.

For example, I am reading in the Old Testament book of Numbers. There, I see instructions for consecration of the men of the tribe of Levi, chosen for service at the Tabernacle. The actions required are three: cleansing with water, washing clothing, and shaving the entire body. That's right, the entire body.

The first two seem reasonable, but the shaving thing, well, it just stops the show for me. What's going on with that?

I am more than curious to know what's going on here, and plan to investigate this further. However, I am certain that the original readers did not have the same response I have. It made sense to them. They didn't have a problem because the instruction was a familiar practice, something they could relate to from their own experience.

But there is another point. It is not the purpose of the Bible to teach the reader the details of the ancient cultures of what we call the Middle East. The purpose is to reveal the person and character of the true and living God, the God who speaks, so that they and we might know this God and respond to him. Cultural details may be fascinating - and are to me - but they have little bearing on the nature and character of the God of the Bible.

Therefore, folks who reject the veracity of the Bible or the God revealed there based on the many details they don't understand are not, in my opinion, honestly seeking truth in any case. Shaving bodies seems like a very curious practice, but it certainly should not be a "deal breaker" in our acceptance of the greater message of the Bible.

Part of the problem is the common practice of reading the Bible from an analytical perspective, dissecting the text as we read. Perhaps that would be good were it a biology or math textbook, but it clearly is not. It's a narrative, and should be read, first and foremost, as narrative. To understand, it's necessary first to stop "working on the text" and let the text work on us.

As we read, asking the Spirit of God to reveal truth to us and letting the Spirit and the Word work in us, we begin to see truth and in the end, to know truth. And we come to know The Truth, the one who came and became one of us, that we might know him and the Father.

I didn't start this as a Christmas essay, but I am at the point where I think it may make a pretty good one. Read the Bible - all of it - as a story, letting it work on you, that you might know Jesus and the Father who sent him. You can do far worse.

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