Numbers 8-13

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Well, I didn’t write yesterday so I have a goodly bunch of chapters to comment on today, Numbers 8-13

Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,
“Rise up, O LORD!
May your enemies be scattered;
may your foes flee before you.”

Whenever it came to rest, he said,
“Return, O LORD,
to the countless thousands of Israel

We start with the Levites. They are important. They are a special order within the special people of Israel, who have their own rules because they deal directly with the things of God. And they retire at 50! Not a bad gig, unless you mix the incense wrong.

What is interesting is they are not only set apart, but they are the very representatives of each family of the other tribes. Rather than taking the first born of each family for his special service, God creates an order of servants who act in the place of those he demands. The Levites are the “first-borns” of Israel. That’s an intriguing concept I don’t quite know what to do with yet. I bet there’s a symbolism there worth considering more.

In the beginning of 9 there is another discussion of Passover. Passover trumps the clean and unclean. Those who are unclean still must celebrate Passover, though they are given a backup day to do so. Passover is the symbol of the covenant. It is the memorial of God’s work in binding the people together as a people through the miraculous action of God’s salvation. They were slaves, and now they are free. Passover commemorates this freedom, and so all must partake, for it is more than a nice meal and a nice memorial. It is a renewing bond, that honors God’s work and in doing that recreates the community again. That’s why it must be celebrated. Those who don’t celebrate it are placing themselves outside of God’s covenant, they are returning, in essence, to the state of slavery. Those who do celebrate it are honoring the covenant, and placing themselves within the covenant, which is why there is a teaching on foreigners. Those who cling to God place themselves within God’s work. He’s generous, though quite orderly about it.

In the rest of 9-10 I got the sense of movement. We have studied how they are to camp, now we learn the order in their movement. We are told the trumpet calls and we are told the signs of movement. Everything is clear and orderly, there’s no allowances for confusion. If there is not order than someone is being disobedient. Lovely that God makes it all clear.

But that doesn’t mean everything is lovely. They’re in the Wilderness after all and that means hardships. The hardship in chapter 11 is they are tired of their food. It’s easy to judge them I guess, except for the fact I’m the same way. God gives me a blessing. I rejoice in it. But then I get used to it, and complain there’s not more. I forget the blessing of the blessing and get whiny. Did it today in fact. If I was an Israelite, looking at my own actions in life, I’d be with them complaining, “Where’s the beef?”

But, that’s not my problem, so I feel I can judge them. Except in my blessings I forget my education. I forget the gifts God has given me. I forget all the things which make me me. “Where’s the wife?” I instead ask. “Where’s the nice paying job?” “Where’s the writing contract?” “Where’s the quiet?” “Where’s the…?” “Where’s the…” “Where’s the…”

Yeah, I need to not judge them.

But I like Moses in this situation. They complain to him, and he doesn’t hold back. He goes and complains to God. Gets a little peeved really. “Why have you treated your servant so badly?” he asks. That’s the funny thing about the Bible. We have a perception of God that comes from our own definitions of what a God should be like. Only again and again we see in the Bible that God is not like the Greek conception of Deity. He’s personal and he’s personable. Moses complains to him. Lays it out. God responds by easing Moses’ burden. God likes our participation in his work. He responds to our pleadings and our emotional outbursts and our weariness. We don’t have to be perfect with him or say perfect, “good little Christian” prayers beseeching his Almightiness. Moses was fed up and told God exactly what he felt. God listened.

Sure, as the Israelites show, not all complaining is acceptable. There’s a line. But at the same time we’re not just supposed to resign ourselves to being automatons with God. He made us emotional and we respond with emotions to him like we would with anyone. Moses’ complaining was good complaining. The Israelites complaining was bad complaining. There’s a distinction to be made and it seems to do with carrying a too heavy burden. The Israelites were merely discontent, and could have made do. Moses was overwhelmed and feeling crushed.

So God worked. He gathered leaders to help Moses respond. His Spirit came upon them. They were given God’s authority as leaders. But, when the Spirit comes upon a person its a little overwhelming at first. The leaders were filled being filling, and overflowed with this new reality. Words came out from God. They all prophesied. The Spirit takes a little while to get used to apparently.

I love the little tidbit about Eldad and Medad. They were on the list, but didn’t make it to the gathering. The Spirit followed the list, however, and came upon them. They prophesied too where they were at.

Joshua was a man of order, and didn’t like the craziness one bit.

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

“I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

The LORD fulfilled this wish in Acts 2. Order was replaced with exuberant freedom. But that’s getting a good 10 months ahead of our year long story.

The quail came at the end of 11. The people ate. God got mad. A plague swept through. The answers of God at that sort of complaining are certainly mixed.

Miriam and Aaron are jealous. Now this is a funny section. Not because of the jealousy but because of Miriam. She’s a leader. Enough of a leader to think herself equal to Moses. She’s taught a lesson, but it’s quite, quite interesting that the triumvirate of Israel’s leaders is Miriam. She’s a woman, after all. Make of that what you will.

In chapter 13 the spies go out to search the land. They see wonders and blessings and a land of milk and honey. But it’s not enough. They also see the challenges, and in their eyes the challenges are greater than the blessings. The difficulties are larger than God’s promise. Only Caleb wants to fight. I bet he wasn’t complaining about the Manna either. He held onto the promise. He held onto God. The others didn’t. They were practical. They were pragmatic. They were realists.

And that was their weakness and their shame. It caused chaos.

God is true to his promises, but that doesn’t mean there will be a lack of difficulties. It just means he will overcome them. If we falter or complain or fear in the face of these, however, we will taste chaos.

Like Isaiah later says to Ahaz, “If you do not have faith, you will not stand.”

Israel’s spies lost faith. And the whole people stumbled.

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