This lists the complicated list of sacrifices required for each day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Chapter 30 concerns vows. When a man makes a vow to the Lord or ‘binds himself with a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said’ (30:2).
Similarly, if a young woman makes a vow and her father does not nullify it, or, when she gets married, her husband says nothing to her about it, then her vows and pledges ‘by which she bound herself will stand’ (v.5).
I think this is what happened to the Virgin Mary. According to legends / non-canonical texts she was dedicated to the temple and lived there between the ages of 3 and 12. She had made a vow to be a Holy Virgin for her whole life, dedicated to God. Being a virgin was her job and vocation. ‘How can this be since I am a virgin?’ (Luke 1:34).
The priests in the temple arranged for Mary to be looked after by the elderly widower, Joseph, as soon as she reached puberty. He respected her vow of chastity and did not nullify it as her husband. Mary remained a virgin for her own life.
In Chapter 31, the Lord told Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. The Israelites killed every man including the colourful character, Balaam. Here we find evidence as to why Balaam is so unpopular when later mentioned in the New Testament. He was a sorcerer, paid for his divinations, curses and blessings. He was able to hear from God but he did not worship God alone, He was instrumental in the Israelites starting to worship demonic entities after the Moabite women had seduced them at Peor. Only the virgin Midianite women were allowed to live. This seems harsh by today’s standards but this was a matter of life and death. The survival of the entire nation was at stake. Moses could not risk the Israelite men being seduced into worshipping other Gods again because this would result in another plague at the very least. God would be justified in destroying all the Israelites if they were seduced away from him again.
Because the Midianites worshipped demonic entities, all the bounty that the Israelites had captured had to be cleansed before it could be brought into the camp. Anything that could go through fire was put through it but it ‘must also be purified with the water of cleansing’ (v.23). See Numbers 19 for details about the ‘water of cleansing’. Demonic spirits can attach themselves to objects either by their own will or by spells / curses. It is very unwise to bring back souvenirs from different cultures such as African masks and display them in your house as havoc might ensue. You can even buy ‘cursed dolls’ on Ebay, which have one of more evil spirits attached to them.
Be very careful about what you introduce to your home. The Holy Spirit can give people knowledge about which articles in their house may have been cursed and need to be disposed of. Amorth gives practical advice on how to dispose of cursed objects, They should never be flushed down the toilet as this can cause all the drains in the house to block. The traditional method of disposal is to sprinkle them with holy water – which can be obtained from any Catholic church – and then the item must be burnt (it is very important that prayers are said while the object is burned to protect against spiritual backlash) and then the ashes are thrown into running water – the sea or a river. Then pray to God for forgiveness for having introduced such an object to your home.
Here we have a reference to ‘Jesus’ mother and brothers’ (v.19). Everyone who is born again is a brother or sister of Jesus.
It is a long-held Christian tradition that the ‘brothers’ mentioned in verse 19 are relatives of Jesus but born to another Mary (Mary the wife of Cleopas (see John 19:25)). The Eastern church has an even simpler explanation that these were children from Joseph’s previous marriage (he was an elderly widower when he married Mary). So they neither have the same mother as Jesus (Mary) nor the same father (God / The Holy Spirit). If they were actual sons of Mary, they would have taken Mary in after Jesus died on the cross rather than ‘the disciple whom he loved’ (John 19:26-27).
Jesus calmed the storm (v:22-25). ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his (frightened disciples)’ (v.25). Looking back over the last year of Covid lockdowns, I think my wife’s and my faith has kept us remarkably calm. We have taken sensible precautions as we are scientists as well as believers. However, we have still risked frequent exposure to the virus as we gathered provisions for elderly people. I wouldn’t have wanted to face a global pandemic without having God to pray and put my trust in.
Our Pastor tells an amazing story of a church situated in an area, which was forecasted to be hit by a tsunami. The local pastor urged his parishioners to flock into the church and lock the doors. The pastor stood on the porch outside and prayed that they would not be harmed. When the tsunami arrived it wiped out the town, except it split and went around the church. The pastor reported that the tsunami looked like a cobra’s head as it reared up over the town. All the Christians in the church were unscathed. In the face of natural disasters, show the people around you your faith.
In verse 27, we find out that the storm in the lake may have not been such a ‘natural’ hazard. Jesus was met by a demon-possessed man as soon as he stepped ashore. Jesus performed his most spectacular exorcism, allowing a legion of exorcised demons to enter a herd of pigs who then rush down a steep bank and drown themselves in the lake.
This makes me suspect that the storm on the lake was whipped up by demonic spirits, who had seen that Jesus was en route to exorcise Legion and tried to drown him and his disciples before he got there. Exorcists find that they are often attacked during a journey to an exorcism with cars or aircraft breaking down or engines going on fire. Amorth reports a demonic plot to overturn a carriage containing an exorcist was foiled when the carriage driver was given a blessed medal of Saint Benedict to carry. I never travel without one. This isn’t superstition or idol worship – it’s what the church calls a ‘sacramental’. When I pick up a blessed medal of St. Benedict, I am calling down the protection of God through the intercession of St. Benedict.
The fact that there was a herd of pigs next to the lake indicates that the people living in this region were not Jews. No Jewish farmer can keep pigs as God declared them unclean (Lev. 11:7-8). So Jesus has basically gone onto an exorcism excursion into the land of the Gentiles. The poor possessed man ‘had been driven by the demon into solitary places’ (8:29). The demons didn’t want him to meet an exorcist before he died and certainly not Jesus, the chief exorcist.
Sending the demons into ‘unclean’ pigs, who were then destroyed, shows that salvation comes from the Jews and we, as Gentiles, should recognise the superiority of the Jewish law over our historical, heathen practices. The swineherds weren’t being very sensitive to their Jewish neighbours by keeping massive herds of pigs next to Jewish territory. Jesus may have thought it was highly appropriate sending ‘unclean spirits’ into ‘unclean animals’. Demons can possess animals as well as people but people are first choice as a demon’s key aim is to stop us turning to God with faith and accepting His priceless offer of eternal life. God loves animals but demonstrated that saving one human life is worth thousands of animals. We are all uniquely precious to God.
The demons begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them ‘into the Abyss’ (v.31). Demons are terrified of being sent down into hell to await the end of time as they will suffer for ever and can never receive forgiveness.
The man, who had been exorcised, longed to go with Jesus but he is sent back to his own town as the first travelling disciple to the Gentiles. Jesus knows where each disciple can do his best work. This is long before Peter converts Cornelius in Acts 9-10 and Paul starts his travels as apostle to the gentiles. Maybe some of the Gentiles that the exorcised man spoke to travelled back across the lake and tracked down Jesus seeking their own healing and deliverance.
In other gospels, the area is describe as Gadara with the pigs called the ‘Gadarene swine’. From this comes the adjective ‘Gadarene’ describing a headlong rush. For example, ‘Today, there was an unwise Gadarene stampede to the hairdresser as soon as Covid lockdown ended’.
King David kept his tongue from sin ‘as long as the wicked are in my presence’ (39:1). Any type of leader, pastor or even a lay Christian is constantly under minute scrutiny from the wicked to see if they slip up and reveal themselves to be hypocrites. We have to be on our guard as to what we say and do. However, when he stopped speaking completely ‘not even saying anything good’ (v.2), he found his anguish increased. We need to keep talking to God.
David reflects on how short our life is and how pointless piling up wealth is just for someone else to inherit it. As soon as I had calculated that God had delivered sufficient funds into my pension pot I retired from my secular job. There was no point heaping up extra riches; my children are more than capable of looking after themselves. Our lives are so fleeting, we need to dump secular concerns as soon as we can and get on with the work of God. Covid lockdown taught me how little money we need to live happily and how worthless most possessions are.
God will ‘rebuke and discipline men for their sin’ (v.11) but each time he does this, we can withstand it more easily and come out happier and healthier each time. I was last rebuked and disciplined for becoming too lazy in my Catholic faith. I was attending a church where the power of the Holy Spirit was not being displayed. I could see no miracles or healings taking place. God allowed me to become ill and to be attacked by the wicked. In desperation for spiritual help, I met local Pentecostals and, under their joyful care, God healed me, instructed me and strengthened me in order to bring back more of the good news to my Catholic brethren. I have had several major trials from God, the first two nearly killed me but the last one I stormed through, keeping both my sanity and my sense of humour, because I handed myself over to God for him to sort everything out. Praise be to God for my salvation.
Picture: Katolophyromai, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons