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

Friday, April 29, 2005

Truth and Consequence

Daily Readings
Proverbs 7 + Numbers 26 + Deuteronomy 19 + Romans 1

Quote of the Day
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16, 17

Daily Text: Numbers 26:1-2, 52-56, 63-65
After the plague the LORD said to Moses and to Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, 2"Take a census of the whole congregation of the Israelites, from twenty years old and upward, by their ancestral houses, everyone in Israel able to go to war."
52 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 53To these the land shall be apportioned for inheritance according to the number of names. 54To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance according to its enrollment. 55But the land shall be apportioned by lot; according to the names of their ancestral tribes they shall inherit. 56Their inheritance shall be apportioned according to lot between the larger and the smaller.
63 These were those enrolled by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who enrolled the Israelites in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho. 64Among these there was not one of those enrolled by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had enrolled the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. 65For the LORD had said of them, "They shall die in the wilderness." Not one of them was left, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

Truth and Consequence
Census taking seems to be a preparatory activity. Here it seems to be in preparation for the imminent invasion of the land. That preparation required two determinations. The first was whether or not the first generation had all died as God had decreed and in verse 64 this is attested, with the exceptions of Caleb and Joshua noted. The second determination is how the tribal apportionment for inheriting the new land is to be decided. The census provides for that by numbers in each tribe. There is the obvious comparison between the census in chapters 1-3 taken to organize the encampment around the tabernacle, and this one to essentially organize their more permanent placement in the land.

In addition, there are some interesting comments within the census records. One of these is that the sons of Korah did not die in his rebellion even though 16:31, 32 had suggested strongly that they had. A second is that the tribe of Simeon was diminished inordinately from 59,000 to 22,000 and Manasseh was increased from 32,000 to 52,000. Other tribes did not show surprising changes. A third fact of doubtful interest is that the tribe of Levi is the smallest. Its numbers do not seem so, at first blush, but 23,000, when you take into account that they alone were counting males a month old and older, rather than from 20 years and up, would be the smallest number in the census. Why this should be so is not apparent. Could their families have been smaller because they knew they were not to inherit any land? We are never told. Finally, the daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned in verse 33 prior to their coming front and center in chapter 27. Not mentioned is whether or not the women in the camp suffered the same as the men. Did all of the women who came out of Egypt die prior to entering the land? They were not included in either census, and nothing is said. There was a tradition that arose based on 26:65 that says literally, “For the Lord had said of them, ‘They shall die in the wilderness.’ Not a man among them was left, except….,’ that the women were not included under that rubric. This midrash declared that “The women were spared, for they had preserved the spirit of law and morality[185:1207].”

Census time for Israel was a time for accountability. One saw the results of supporting or rebelling. It is a matter of judgement, of revealing consequences. Such judgement is a reminder of our own mortality.

It’s Easy to Invent a Life
Emily Dickinson

It’s easy to invent a Life
God does it—every Day—
Creation—but the Gambol
Of His Authority—

It’s easy to efface it—
The thrifty Deity
Could scarce afford Eternity
To Spontaneity—

The Perished Patterns murmur—
but His Perturbless Plan
Proceed—inserting Here—a Sun—
There—leaving out a Man—
415:724

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