Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Thirty-eight Years

Daily Readings
Proverbs 1 + Numbers 20 + Deuteronomy 13 + Galatians 1

Quote of the Day
The Lord your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast. Deuteronomy 13:4

Daily Text -- Numbers 20:7-13
7The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 8Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock. 9So Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he had commanded him. 10Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" 11Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. 12But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them." 13These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and by which he showed his holiness.

Thirty-eight Years
Thirty-eight years have passed since we left chapter 14, the last chapter in our narrative of the exodus. It is now the 40th year of wandering and the last of those who left Egypt age twenty and older are dying. [Cf. Numbers 33:38.] Miriam, her brother Aaron and soon Moses will die giving way to younger leadership, that of Joshua, who with Caleb are the only two adults who left Egypt to enter the Promised Land . In this 40th year the new, younger Israel is as upset as their elders were about the lack of water and they complain to Moses and Aaron. Have you noticed how it has become Moses and Aaron, and not just Moses who speaks, who prays, who are spoken to by God? It is also Moses and Aaron who betray the LORD at Meribah and pay for it with their lives.

This is evidently the second time the Exodus company has demanded water and had it provided at Meribah. Cf. Exodus 17:1-7. The first time Moses was commanded to strike the rock with his staff and water came. This time Moses and Aaron are told to command water from the rock. Instead in anger, Psalm 106:33 says ‘in bitterness of spirit,’ they strike the rock to show the rebels their power! Imagine it. Thirty-eight or thirty-nine years before they were at this same place, in the same predicament and here they are again with a whole new company of people. Will nothing ever change? Older now, have they given up on the promise of God? Not only the promise that he will provide water, but the set apartness of this God, the absolute trustworthiness of this covenanting YHWH, may be what is forgotten at Meribah II. Moses and Aaron were shattered, perhaps seeing their whole life’s work undone, and forgetting God by focussing on the people, they fulfilled their own fears and also betrayed God. I remember Peter when I read this story. The most courageous, the most faithful, the Rock betrays when push comes to shove.

Aaron is buried on Mount Hor. Companion to Moses, spokesperson, priest to a great people, he must have himself become a great and beloved man in his own right before God. Thirty days the people mourned him and the loss of him.

Mount Hor
(Numbers xx:23-29)
Horatius Bonar


They have left the camp, with its tents outspreading,
Like a garden of lilies, on Edom’s plain;
They are climbing the mountains, in silence treading
A path which one may not tread again,
Two aged brothers the way are leading,
There follows a youth in the solemn train.

O’er a sister’s bier they have just been bending;
The desert prophetess sleeps hard by;
With her toilsome sojourn nearly ending,
With Judah’s mountains before her eye,
The echoes of Kadesh and Canaan blending,
She has calmly turned her aside to die!

They come, not to gaze on the matchless glory,
On grandeur the like of which earth has not,
A billowy ocean of mountains hoary,
A chaos of cliffs round this awful spot;
A vision like that in some old-world story,
Too terrible ever to be forgot.

The desert rainbow that gleams before ye,
But leaves your solitude doubly bleak;
The shadows of sunset fall ghastly o’er ye;
Cliff frowns upon cliff, and peak on peak.
O rocks of the desolate, lean and hoary,
What lip of man can your grandeur speak!

Splinter’d and blasted and thunder-smitten,
Not a smile above, nor a hope below;
Shiver’d and scorch’d and hunger bitten,
No earthly lightning has seam’d your brow;
On each stone the Avenger’s pen has written,
Horror and ruin and death and woe.

The king and the priest move on un-speaking.
The desert-priest and the desert-king;
‘Tis a grave, a mountain-grave they are seeking.
Fit end of a great life-wandering!
And here, still the day of the glory-streaking
This desert eagle must fold his wing.

The fetters of age have but lightly bound him,
This bold sharp steep he can bravely breast;
With his six-score wondrous years around him
He climbs like youth to the mountain’s crest.
The mortal moment at last has found him,
Willing to tarry, yet glad to rest.

Is that a tear-drop his dim eye leaving
As he looks his last on yon desert sun?
Is that a sigh his faint bosom heaving,
As he lays his ephod in silence down?
‘Twas a passing mist, to his sky still cleaving;--
But the sky has brightened—the cloud is gone!

In his shroud of rock they have gently wound him,
‘Tis a Bethel pillow that love has given;
I see no gloom of the grave around him
The death-bed fetters have all been riven:
‘Tis the angel of life, not of death, that has found him,
And this is to him the gate of heaven.

He has seen the tombs of old Mizraim’s wonder,
Where the haughty Pharaohs embalm’d recline;
But no pyramid tomb, with its costly grandeur,
Can once be compared with this mountain-shrine;
No monarch of Memphis is swathed in splendor
High Priest of the desert, like this of thine.

Not with thy nation thy bones are lying,
Nor Israel’s hills shall thy burial see;
Yet with Edom’s vultures around thee flying,
Safe and unrifled thy dust shall be;--
Oh who would not court so calm a dying,
And who would not rest by the side of thee?

Not with thy fathers thy slumber tasting;
From sister and brother thou seem’st to flee.
Not in Shechem’s plains are thy ashes wasting,
Not in Machpelah thy grave shall be:
In the land of the stranger thy dust is resting
Yet who would not sleep by the side of thee?

Alone and safe, in the happy keeping
Of rocks and sands, till the glorious morn,
They have laid thee down for thy lonely sleeping,
Waysore and weary and labor worn;
While faintly the sound of a nation’s weeping
From the vale beneath thee is upward borne.

As one familiar with gentle sorrow,
With a dirge-like wailing the wind goes by;
And echo lovingly seems to borrow
The plaintive note of the mourner’s cry,
Which comes to-day, and is gone to-morrow,
Leaving nought for thee but the stranger’s sigh.

Alone and safe, in the holy keeping,
Of him who holdeth the grave’s cold key,
They have laid thee down for the blessed sleeping,
The quiet rest which his dear ones see;--
And why o’er thee should we weep the weeping,
For who would not rest by the side of thee?

Three Hebrew cradles, the Nile-palms under,
Rocked three sweet babes upon Egypt’s plain;
Three desert graves must these dear ones sunder,
Three sorrowful links of a broken chain;
Kadesh, and Hor, and Nebo yonder,
Three way-marks now for the pilgrim train.

Are these my way-marks, these tombs of ages?
Are these my guides to the land of rest?
Are these grim rock-tombs the stony pages,
Which show how to follow the holy blest?
And bid me rise, ‘bove each storm that rages,
Like a weary dove to its olive nest?

Is death my way to the home undying?
Is the desert my path to the Eden-plain?
Are these lone links, that are round me lying,
To be gathered, and all re-knit again?
And is there beyond this land of sighing
A refuge for ever from death and pain?

On this rugged cliff, while the sun is dying,
Behind yon majestic mountain wall,
I stand;--not a cloudlet above is flying—
Not a foot is stirring, no voices call,--
A traveller lonely, a stranger, trying
To muse o’er the wondrous funeral.

In silence we stand, till the faint stars cover
This grave of ages. Yes, thus would we
Still look and linger, and gaze and hover
About this cave, where thy dust may be:
Great priest of the desert: thy toil is over
And who would not rest by the side of thee?

And night, the wan night is bending over
The twilight couch of the dying day,
With dewy eyes, like a weeping lover,
That dotes on the beauty that will not stay,
And sighs that the mould so soon must cover
Each golden smile of the well-loved day.

The night of ages bends softly o’er us,
Four thousand autumns have well nigh fled,
Love watches still the old tomb before us
Of sainted dust, in the mountain-bed;
Till the longed-for trump shall awake the chorus,
From desert and field, of the blessed dead.
411:111

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