Introduction pages 1-37
North states (page 15) that
‘[Pentecost] was Israel’s celebration [of] the anniversary of God’s giving of the ten commandments’
citing Edersheim’s book on the Temple as his source. Unfortunately, Edersheim is being misquoted - the thrust of Edersheim’s book is to outline what was being observed in the time of Christ and the Scriptures make it plain that there had never been an original intention by God to incorporate the celebration of the giving of the Law into Pentecost (in much the same way that Simchat Torah on the added eighth day of the feast of Tabernacles was not part of God’s original intention but a much later addition).
North begins well enough when he states (page 12) that
‘...three feasts a year were required of every adult circumcised male if he was inside the land’s boundaries. Every adult had to journey to a central location and participate in a festival (ritual feast) three times a year’
but he goes one step too far when he asserts (page 14) that
‘At Passover, entire families journeyed to the tabernacle city and later to Jerusalem. Families were required to celebrate the Passover’
and (page 16) that
‘Clans and tribes from across the nation were required to meet together in one city: the earthly dwelling place of God where the sacrifices had to be conducted’
What the author is trying to show the reader is the enormous economic commitment and upheaval that was thrown upon the Israelites’ shoulders just to be able to follow God regardless of any additional journeying that may have been required to offer personal sacrifices at indiscriminate times in the year.
However, though it may be shown that families did travel to Jerusalem by the time of Christ to celebrate the festivals, the Torah makes it plain that this was not God’s intention.
In Ex 23:14-17 (my italics throughout), we read the qualifying sentence (v.17) that
‘Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord YHWH’
in Ex 34:22-24 (v.23), that
‘Three times in the year shall all your males appear before YHWH God, the God of Israel’
and, in Deut 16:1-17 (v.16) that
‘Three times a year all your males shall appear before YHWH your God at the place which He will choose...’
But, just to qualify this, every seventh year at the ‘year of release’, all Israel had to appear before YHWH at the Feast of Tabernacles along with all the non-Israelite residents in the land (Deut 31:9-13). Notice verse 12 which tells Israel to
‘Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns...’
If this statement refers to the yearly celebration then all residents (whether non-Jew or not) would have had to have attended but, as it is, it only refers to the sabbatical seventh year. However, North asserts (page 19) that
‘Except for one year in seven...[the non-Israelites] were not required to attend the feasts’
without mentioning that this ‘one year in seven’ applied equally to women and children.
Following on from this, the statements (page 16) that
‘Pentecost was a summer festival, when agricultural time is most valuable’
and (page 18) that
‘The costs of travel, lodging, food and forfeited time required to participate in the three festivals were very high’
lead naturally on to the conclusion (page 19) that
‘...non-Israelites, who did not have to pay these temple-based costs, had a tremendous economic advantage as farmers in Israel’
This does not follow, though. Because only adult males were required by the Law to attend the three compulsory festivals, it left the remainder of the family (amounting only to a wife, all daughters and any males not yet considered to be ‘adult’ - whether that meant an age similar to barmitzvah or to the consideration of whether they would be able to go to war seems to be uncertain from Scripture) to tend to the agricultural duties of the inheritance. That the non-Israelites had an advantage is a fair conclusion but the ‘tremendous’ advantage is not proven.
North’s ‘two million people’ as being present at the first Passover in the Promised land (page 14) is obviously wrong as are his other consequent considerations based upon his theory (such as the marriages of cross-tribal individuals - page 16ff).
Having said all this, North’s assertions (page 20) that
‘...the ceremonial laws were designed to move Israelites off the land and into cities’
- where he goes on to speak of Israelites becoming specialised in crafts and services rather than depending upon the land for their livelihood - are probably fairly accurate to a point. As tribal population grew, the inheritance could not be divided indefinitely and eventually the amalgamation of small tracts of land into larger units for ‘hire’ would make sense (though the ‘hire’ was probably proportionate to the value of the crops that could realistically be expected to be grown in the years preceding ‘land release’ - see the principle in Lev 25:15-16), the Israelites needing to learn a trade to use within a city setting. From here, having ‘too many craftsmen’ would necessitate many individuals moving firstly within the land into areas where the trade they had was lacking and, secondly, further afield to ‘adjacent nations’ taking the commandments of God with them.
North’s assertion is probably quite justified when he writes (page 20) that
‘I am not arguing that foreigners actually did occupy most of the rural land in pre-Jeroboam Israel. I do not think they did. I am arguing that if this did not happen, it was because the Israelites ignored biblical laws...’
but this is not a proven statement that can be relied upon. Israelite land workers could equally well have set themselves up to work large, amalgamated tracts of land.
North is at pains to release the Israelite from his obligation to attend Pentecost and Tabernacles in Jerusalem because it fits in with his interpretation of Leviticus (and the other Mosaic legislation) as forcing the Israelites off the land firstly into cities and, then, as a consequence abroad into the entire world (pages 33-34) - the only obligation being a return for Passover.
He writes (page 24 - my italics) with bewildering logic that
‘Passover alone among the three mandatory festivals had a second date so that travellers could attend. Someone returning to Israel might have been caught in a winter storm. The Mosaic law acknowledged this possibility [he has previously quoted Num 9:10-11]. This indicates that the other two festivals were not mandatory for Israelites who were outside the nation’s geographical boundaries. For those who lived far from the central place of worship but inside the land, and for those living close to the Mediterranean, there was a lawful way to avoid the economic burden of these two festivals’ time and travel expenses: become involved in international commerce. The traveller could arrange his affairs to be on a business trip when the two festival dates occurred’
There’s no indication that God made any provision for non-attendance at either Pentecost or Tabernacles (abbreviated below as PT). The only reason for the legislation of Num 9:10-11 was the situation in Num 9:1-8 which arose when one law prohibited some Israelites from obeying another law.
God’s solution was not to waive the commandment so that they could miss out on the celebration of Passover, but to provide a way for the Israelite to be able to participate in it.
Should a similar situation have occurred in Israel concerning PT, what are we to imagine? That God would say that they could be let off the obligation of celebrating these festivals (Ex 23:14-17, Ex 34:22-24, Deut 16:16-17)? But that would have been against the straight forward command of Numbers chapter 9 and very out of character (‘These are the statutes that you must keep but I don’t mind if you don’t keep them - I’m a tolerant kinda god’).
That the Israelites ended up failing to celebrate the festivals in the land doesn’t nullify God’s expectation of His people. That they may have engaged in business overseas during the seasons of PT does not prove that God allowed non-participation.
God’s provision to postpone Passover for one month should an Israelite be on a ‘long journey’ cannot be expanded to ‘prove’ that, should an Israelite be on a ‘long journey’ during PT, he could be forgiven his non-attendance.
North writes (page 24) that
‘Hadn’t God condemned the Western hemisphere to spiritual darkness merely by placing its residents across the Pacific Ocean? No’
A slip of the pen, I fear. The western hemisphere lay across the Atlantic Ocean!!!
With no Scriptural justification, North states authoritatively (page 33) that
‘When Jesus substituted the mandatory tithe and voluntary offerings for all of the economic burdens of Israel’s sacrificial system, He liberated His people’
Jesus removed the sacrificial offering system for a system based on freewill offerings and compulsory tithing? Where does Jesus even speak about the necessity of the tithe to His followers? A bit more explanation is required here before acceptance of such a statement is possible.
Thoughts on the implications of the Mosaic covenant/legislation
Though North raises some interesting (and sometimes maybe not all that well thought out) points, he seems to have missed some more important considerations and consequences of the legislation.
For instance, what would have happened when (or if) Israel had possessed all their inheritance (which it does not appear that they ever did through disobedience)? After all, there was always room for expansion by internal conquest/acquiring more of their inheritance that had not yet been realised.
If they had stepped out in military campaigns to expand their territory, how far from Jerusalem/Shiloh could they have reasonably settled, from which they would have been able to travel in order to observe the three compulsory festivals?
Realistically, was the nation meant to be fairly territorially based around Jerusalem/Shiloh until the Messiah was to come who would make central worship a thing of the past and provide for the expansion of the nation into all the world with the Gospel of God’s re-established Kingdom?
Deut 20:10-18 would imply that expansion of Israel’s allotted inheritance was permissible. In these ‘foreign lands’ (as opposed to the land already categorised as belonging to Israel by promise), all the males were executed if they made war on the advancing Israelite army after having been offered terms of peace, with the remaining inhabitants and livestock being absorbed into the nation. That the city wasn’t razed to the ground whether they surrendered or resisted but, presumably, inhabited, would allow for the territorial expansion - and that this legislation exists at all would indicate that God did not intend His people to be limited within their original inheritance.
But the example of David’s conquests as recorded in II Samuel chapter 8 indicates a policy other than that mentioned above. Though (v.14)
‘...the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went’
it’s noteworthy that David doesn’t appear to have attempted to permanently settle in the conquered lands (except Philistine territory which was already Israel’s according to God’s original promise - v.1 and I Chr 18:1) but he established garrisons to enforce his rule (v.6,14) and received tribute from the land which is indicative of some sort of continuing independent sovereign state existing (known as a ‘vassal state’ - v.2,6), the inhabitants being recorded as becoming ‘servants’ (or, better, ‘slaves’ - v.2,6,14).
Therefore, it could be argued that the effect of the Law upon conquest outside the Promised land was that tribute and slavery were the order of the day rather than conquest by possession because, using the reasoning of North, the necessity of compulsory festival attendance and the observance of having just one central place for the offering of sacrifices demanded it to be so.
In this way, the Law would have had the consequence of keeping the nation’s physical boundary relatively small but their range of influence and dominance could have been relatively expansive as it was in David’s day.
This could (and only ‘could’) indicate that expansion into foreign lands was naturally seen to fragment the nation and pull away from the centrality of a sacrificial system that was then established in Jerusalem.
Moreover, the development of crafts and trades mentioned above which would be a necessary characteristic of an Israelite nation which grew to its full extent within its allotted inheritance, would provide for a successful ‘release’ into the world upon Messiah’s provision and be the economic means whereby God’s people would be able to sustain their continued presence away from the Promised land. The Law can therefore be seen as instituting change in occupation in the long term that would support God’s ultimate plan for the nation.
Perhaps, then, through the law, God was preparing a people for the time of Messiah when they would be released to ‘go into all the world and preach the Good News of the Kingdom’ but that the dispersal was intended for that time when the laws governing central sacrifice were fulfilled and rendered of no consequence through the one supreme sacrifice in Jesus.
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