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.

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.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Red Cow

Daily Readings
Psalm 72 + Numbers 19 + Deuteronomy 12 + Matthew 28

Quote for the Day
And Jesus said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20

Daily Text: Numbers 19:1-3, 9, 17-19

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2This is a statute of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish and on which no yoke has been laid. 3You shall give it to the priest Eleazar, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 9Then someone who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the Israelites for the water for cleansing. It is a purification offering. 17For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt purification offering, and running water shall be added in a vessel; 18then a clean person shall take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all the furnishings, on the persons who were there, and on whoever touched the bone, the slain, the corpse, or the grave. 19The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean ones on the third day and on the seventh day, thus purifying them on the seventh day. Then they shall wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water, and at evening they shall be clean.

The Red Cow
The concern in chapter 19 with impurity resulting from touching a dead body is a puzzle that remains unsolved even by the rabbis. A red cow was to be sacrificed and burnt completely, its ashes to be mixed with water and used to purify one who had been in contact with the dead. This fear of touching the dead is ancient, there being some fear that the spirit of the dead one might harm the community.

Gray pointed out a number of contemporary practices that serve to show that this one was not peculiar to the Jews. “Thus to refer to some parallel practices that indicate the prevalence of the same doctrine: ‘Among the Navajos [of North America], the man who has been deputed to carry a dead body to burial, holds himself unclean until he has thoroughly washed himself in water prepared for the purpose by certain ceremonies.’ ‘Among the Basutos of South Africa, warriors returning from battle must rid themselves of the blood they have shed….Therefore they go in procession…to the nearest stream to wash….It is usual in this ceremony for a sorcerer, higher up the stream, to put in some magical ingredient, such as he also uses in the preparation of the holy water which is sprinkled over the people with a beast’s tail at the frequent public purifications.’ ‘The Zulus…purify themselves by an ablution after a funeral.’ ‘Tibetan…mourners returning from the funeral stand before the fire, wash their hands with warm water over the hot coals, and fumigate themselves thrice with proper formulas’ (Tylor, Primitive Culture, ii. Pp.433 f., 437; cp. Frazer, GB. I.322-325). The Madangs of Borneo, after depositing the coffin, pass through a cleft stick, the ends of which, when all have passed through, are tied close together again. Then all who have taken part in the ceremony bathe before returning home, and rub themselves with rough pebbles (Hose in Geographical Journal, ivi. 45f.) [414:243].”

One source suggested that the custom of whitewashing graves could have served to direct attention to them so they would not be accidentally touched [185:1149]. Just one of the difficulties reasonably noted is that the very ashes used to purify one who had touched a dead body, made the one who handled these purifying ashes unclean! Without question there is some concern here about the purity of the community, and for some reason the most holy place in the tabernacle.

Christians referred to this practice in Hebrews 9:13-14 to emphasize the superiority of Jesus sacrifice, but in so doing spoke of it in its Hebrew context as efficacious. Augustine noted that “The spotlessness of the cow and her death outside the camp suggested to Christian interpreters the story of Jesus; red, the color of the blood of the passion; the cedar,hope; the hyssop, faith; the scarlet, charity. The dead who make men unclean are man’s dead works [185:1149].” Finally, Josephus notes that this ceremony was used when Miriam, the sister died. Cf. Numbers 20:1. [412:119] It does not seem at all unlikely that the placement together of this observance and the announcement of Miriam’s death are deliberate. Not only that, an announcement of Aaron’s death is imminent. In both these cases there would have been a tie back to the sanctuary in that the high priest, Aaron in the first case, and Eleazar in the second, would have attended the bodies of the dead and would have had access to the sanctuary. There is so much mystery surrounding the death of those we love.

The Bustle in a House
Emily Dickinson

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth,--

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Covenant of Salt

Daily Readings
Psalm 71 + Numbers 18 + Deuteronomy 11 + Matthew 27

Verse for the Day
My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you—I,
whom you have redeemed. Psalm 71:23

Daily Text --Numbers 18:1-2, 19, 21, 25-26

The LORD said to Aaron: You and your sons and your ancestral house with you shall bear responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, while you and your sons alone shall bear responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2So bring with you also your brothers of the tribe of Levi, your ancestral tribe, in order that they may be joined to you, and serve you while you and your sons with you are in front of the tent of the covenant. 19All the holy offerings that the Israelites present to the LORD I have given to you, together with your sons and daughters, as a perpetual due; it is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and your descendants as well. 21To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for a possession in return for the service that they perform, the service in the tent of meeting. 25Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 26You shall speak to the Levites, saying: When you receive from the Israelites the tithe that I have given you from them for your portion, you shall set apart an offering from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe.

Covenant of Salt
Here there is an immediate consolidation of the understanding of the place of the Levites in the priestly economy of Israel. Clearly this is in response to the rebellion of Korah and Aaron’s justification through the budding of his staff. Two matters, at least, are clarified. The priests are given precedence in Levi through Aaron, who is honored as if he were the original Levi, son of Jacob. The second matter clarified is that of the perpetual due that is accorded all Levites through the tithe the people make to God.

Whatever is given as sacrifice within the limits outlined belong to the Levites, priests and acolytes and their families. The principle is that since the Levites do not inherit land with the rest of Israel, their living comes from the offerings made by the people to God. It is a holy system; it is a practical system; it is an unalterable system. To say something is their ‘perpetual due’ is to give them legal recourse. A ‘due’ is something entitled whether through contractual obligation or in this case covenanted responsibility. When one engages with an employer to work 40 hours doing some particular task, the salary paid is not gratuitous, it is that one’s ‘due’. It may be generous or penurious, but it is agreed upon and ‘due’ to the person who has taken on the responsibility.
This matter is further confirmed by stating that it is ‘a covenant of salt forever (19:19).’ Gray summarizes this with the following: “’Yahweh…gave the kingdom…to David…for ever…by a covenant of salt’ (2 Ch.13.5). The phrase means an inviolable covenant. Its origin is probably to be sought in old nomadic custom, whereby a bond was established between those who had shared the same food. The principle is, ‘If I have eaten the smallest morsel of food with a man, I have nothing to fear from him; ‘there is salt between us,’ and he is bound not only to do me no harm, but to help and defend me as if I were his brother.’ Salt was mingled with all Hebrew sacrifices (Leviticus 2.18) and with the holy incense (Exodus 30:35), and continued perhaps to symbolise the inviolability of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel.” 414:232
The covenant of salt was therefore with God himself, as if one had eaten a meal with God and the salt mixed with the sacrifice symbolised the trustworthiness of the covenant. Therefore, the tithe was an integral part of relationship in the society and religion of Israel. It is the way God ordained for the care of the temple and those who served God in it. All shared equally, the tithe being a tenth part of the first fruits, a percentage and fell equally on the poor and the wealthy. “According to Snaith:
The principle that lies behind the whole idea of the first fruits and the first-born is that all increase of every kind belongs to God, and this must be acknowledged by the presentation at the Shrine of the first of the fruits and the first that is born. These are not ‘given,’ but ‘presented,’ since they are God’s already. Thus at all harvest festivals, modern equally with ancient, the harvest-gifts are God’s gifts to men and not man’s gifts to God. When all this has been acknowledged in the first-fruits ceremony, God permits men to use the rest for sustenance and enjoyment.” 185:1141
Driving this principle home, God also required the Levites to tithe their portion back to the high priest and the temple. Everyone participates. The sad loss in the Christian practice of the tithe is that it is usually presented as a nice option rather than a covenant of salt. We no longer understand that all that we are and all that have comes from God. The words are said, the meaning is lost on most. Perhaps it was always so in Hebrew circles, as well. Who knows, but the loss is just as real, for without the means to care for the ministry of the people of God, the ministry God would have in the world is truncated and the blessings which flow from it are lost to us and to the world. The divine notion that we are a kingdom of priests to serve the world becomes a fiction, a denial of the truth of YHWH.

God’s Due
George Herbert

Restore to God His due in tithe and time;
A tithe purloin’d cankers the whole estate.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Version Two--Josephus

Daily Readings
Psalm 70 + Numbers 17 + Deuteronomy 10 + Matthew 26

Verse for the Day
• He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. Deuteronomy 10:21

Daily Text Numbers 17:1-5, 8

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to the Israelites, and get twelve staffs from them, one for each ancestral house, from all the leaders of their ancestral houses. Write each man's name on his staff, 3and write Aaron's name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each ancestral house. 4Place them in the tent of meeting before the covenant, where I meet with you. 5And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you.
8 When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds.

Version Two—Josephus
“Now Moses, upon his hearing for a good while that the people were tumultuous, was afraid that they would attempt some other innovation, and that some great and sad calamity would be the consequence. He called the multitude to a congregation, and patiently heard what apology they had to make for themselves, without opposing them, and this lest he should imbitter the multitude: he only desired the heads of the tribes to bring their rods, with the names of their tribes inscribed upon them, and that he should receive the priesthood in whose rod God should give a sign. This was agreed to. So the rest brought their rods, as did Aaron also, who had written the tribe of Levi on his rod. These rods Moses laid up in the tabernacle of God. On the next day he brought out the rods, which were known from one another by those who brought them, they having distinctly noted them, as had the multitude also; and as to the rest, in the same form Moses had received them, in that they saw them still; but they also saw buds and branches grown out of Aaron’s rod, with ripe fruits upon them; they were almonds, the rod having been cut out of that tree. The people were so amazed at this strange sight, that though Moses and Aaron were before under some degree of hatred, they now laid that hatred aside, and began to admire the judgment of God concerning them; so that hereafter they applauded what God had decreed, and permitted Aaron to enjoy the priesthood peaceably. 412:118 (Antiquities IV:4:2)

And Now in Age
from The Flower
George Herbert

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O, my only Light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom Thy tempests fell all night.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Why Exalt Yourselves?

Daily Readings
Psalm 69 + Numbers 16 + Deuteronomy 9 + Matthew 25

Verse for the Day
I will praise the Name of God in song;
I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving. Psalm 69:32

Daily Text Numbers 16:1-3, 28-34

Now Korah son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth--descendants of Reuben--took 2two hundred fifty Israelite men, leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men, and they confronted Moses. 3They assembled against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone too far! All the congregation are holy, everyone of them, and the LORD is among them. So why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" 28And Moses said, "This is how you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works; it has not been of my own accord: 29If these people die a natural death, or if a natural fate comes on them, then the LORD has not sent me. 30But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD." 31As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them was split apart. 32The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households--everyone who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33So they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34All Israel around them fled at their outcry, for they said, "The earth will swallow us too!"

Why Exalt Yourselves?
The rebellion of Korah, the Levite, is the most significant, perhaps, of the rebellions that Moses and God faced in the wilderness journey. Korah’s charge seems to be that since the whole congregation is holy, there need not be a hierarchy of leadership—prophetic or priestly. In some ways he has the theology right, but, obviously, his challenge is shot through with rebellion against both the leadership and God.

It seems inevitable that some son of Levi would protest the division within the Levites between the priests and the acolytes, if you will. It was an arbitrary division and fiercely defended by the priests throughout the history of Israel. The problem is that the division was created by the word of God through Moses, and it is a fair assumption that it is this that Korah is protesting. The issue, of course, is that Korah sees himself as a fitting person through which to call the entire existence of the people of Israel into question, for they all are threatened by the wrath of God. It is by their fruit that you shall know them.

The difference between Moses’ leadership and that of Korah is that Moses repeatedly interceded for the lives of his people. He led them into freedom, he prayed for their safety not only after the golden calf incident, but as in Deuteronomy 9 after the report of the twelve, for Aaron and Miriam at their rebellion, and he stuck by the people all the way to the Promised Land—40 years. At Korah’s rebellion the lives of all were at issue once again. Leadership is critical, but not just any leadership will do. Some leadership is for the people; some leadership seems focussed on the leader. Korah misunderstood that profoundly and it became obvious.

He was punished, but his children survived to become leaders in the worship of God in the temple. Cf. Numbers 26 and the ten psalms composed by Korah’s descendants, eg., Psalms 43-49. Amazing how God will make use of his gifts in every generation. There doesn’t seem to be a good way to harmonize that later reality with the note in Numbers 16:31-33 that all of his household was swallowed up by the earth. Obviously, one of his sons, at least, survived.

The Happiest Heart
John Vance Cheney

Who drives the horses of the sun
Shall lord it but a day.
Better the lowly deed were done
And kept the humble way.

The rust will find the sword of fame;
The dust will hide the crowd,
Aye, none shall nail so high his name
Time will not tear it down.

The happiest heart that ever beat
Was in some quiet breast
That found the common daylight sweet
And left to heaven the rest.

Monday, April 18, 2005


Daily Readings
Psalm 68 + Numbers 15 + Deuteronomy 8 + Matthew 24

Verse for the Day
• Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the LORD your God disciplines you. Deuteronomy 8:5

Daily Text Numbers 15:26-40
26All the congregation of the Israelites shall be forgiven, as well as the aliens residing among them, because the whole people were involved in the error. 27An individual who sins unintentionally shall present a female goat a year old for a sin offering. 28And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. 29For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them--you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error.
30 But whoever acts high-handedly, whether a native or an alien, affronts the LORD, and shall be cut off from among the people. 31Because of having despised the word of the LORD and broken his commandment, such a person shall be utterly cut off and bear the guilt. 32When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses, Aaron, and to the whole congregation. 34They put him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp." 36The whole congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
37 The LORD said to Moses: 38Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. 39You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes. 40So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to your God.

Sins of omission and commission are clearly spelled out in this passage both for the congregation and for the individual. And for the sins of omission, that is, inadvertent sin, there is immediate recourse to forgiveness. But the defiant, the image is of one who shakes his fist (NRSV, high-handedly), this sinner is to be punished, cut off from his people; this seems to be a way of saying ‘put to death.’ There is an illustration given of a man who was found collecting wood on the Sabbath. This is a deliberate disobedience, for not only was work proscribed on the Sabbath so were fires and food preparation, both of which he was ostensibly intending. It was a rare occurrence, this sin, so rare the people were unsure how to deal with it. They knew the law (Exodus 35:2, 3), but there may have been a question about how to carry it out. The upshot was stoning. But The key here seems to be the man’s defiance, his rejection of God and God’s law. The rabbis later identified the man as Zelophehad (Cf. Numbers 27:1).

As a means of reminding the people about their duty to obey the teachings of the Law, God gave them the law of fringes, the tzitzit or prayer shawl. This was to be worn always with the fringes exposed as a constant reminder that one was a child of God and required to follow the commandments. This prayer shawl is a direct forerunner of the Christian fringed stole worn by priests, deacons and ministers. Christians are not required to fulfill the 613 laws of the Torah, but for us to find ways to remind ourselves that we are children of God and to reflect that always is not such a bad idea.

Judgement and Mercy
From “The Devil to Pay”
Dorothy L. Sayers

All things God can do, but this thing He will not:
Unbind the chain of cause and consequence,
Or speed time’s arrow backward. When man chose
To know like God, he also chose to be
Judged by God’s values. Adam sinned, indeed,
And with him all mankind; and for that sin
God wrought a nobler virtue out for Adam,
And with him, all mankind. No soul can ‘scape
That universal kinship and remain
Human—no man; not even God made man.
He, when He hung upon the fatal tree,
Felt all the passion of the world pierce through Him,
Nor shirked one moment of the ineluctable
Load of the years; but from the griefs of time
Wrought out the splendour of His eternity.
There is no waste with God; He cancels nothing
But redeems all.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Promised Land, "Oh, No!"

Daily Readings
Psalm 67 + Numbers 14 + Deuteronomy 7 + Matthew 23

Verse for the Day
• Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations…. Deuteronomy 7:9

Daily Text Numbers 14:1-4, 26-34, 39-45

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3Why is the LORD bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?" 4So they said to one another, "Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt." 26And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: 27How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. 28Say to them, "As I live," says the LORD, "I will do to you the very things I heard you say: 29your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, 30not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31But your little ones, who you said would become booty, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have despised. 32But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure." 39When Moses told these words to all the Israelites, the people mourned greatly. 40They rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, "Here we are. We will go up to the place that the LORD has promised, for we have sinned." 41But Moses said, "Why do you continue to transgress the command of the LORD? That will not succeed. 42Do not go up, for the LORD is not with you; do not let yourselves be struck down before your enemies. 43For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will confront you there, and you shall fall by the sword; because you have turned back from following the LORD, the LORD will not be with you." 44But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, even though the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, had not left the camp. 45Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them, pursuing them as far as Hormah.

The Promised Land, “Oh, no!”
“Once upon a time twin boys were conceived. It wasn’t long before they discovered one another. They enjoyed the company and soon they were romping and playing together, laughing and rejoicing in their good fortune. How lucky to have been conceived and to live in such an accommodating world. In their more reflective moments the miracle of it all fascinated them. It was possible to imagine a harder environment, but here the temperature was exactly right, every need seemed to have been anticipated even before they could think of it. And the regular throb of life that surrounded them seemed to echo their own heartbeats. ‘Blessed be the mother who gave us life and each other,’ said one in an ecstatic moment. The other wondered.

“At first they didn’t notice the attached cord that nurtured them constantly, nor the fact that they were changing. The changes were fascinating and they kicked and wrestled with increasing strength and enthusiasm. And one shouted out, ‘all praise to the mother who sustains us with her life-giving blood.’ But the other said, ‘what it all means is that we are getting old and soon we must face birth.’

“They talked a lot about birth after that. They realized that all who had gone before had gone that way. ‘But there must be life after birth,’ said one. ‘It could be a more glorious life than ever we could imagine.’ ’How could that be?’ cried the other. ‘We will have to give up the life-sustaining cord—leave this world. I don’t believe there is such a thing as mother! It’s a figment of your imagination; you need to believe in a mother, so you do.’
’But if there is no mother, how do you explain the world—and us—and provision for our lives?’

“Gradually despair gripped the second brother. ‘We are conceived,’ he muttered. ‘We lead a meaningless life in this world, then birth—the end. It’s all absurd.’
‘I can’t believe that,’ said the first brother. ‘I just know that there is a mother and that there is more to life than we have felt or can imagine.’ ‘Has anyone ever come back from birth? Have you ever seen your mother? Has she ever talked to you?’

“There was no time to resolve the question, for suddenly the whole world tightened around them. While the first brother struggled to get his eyes open for the first time, the second desperately clutched his life-supporting cord.” Charles Wilson

On DeathAnne Killigrew

Tell me thou safest end of all our woe,
Wretched mortals do avoid thee so:
Thou gentle drier o’th’afflicted’s tears,
Thou noble ender of the coward’s fears;
Thou sweet repose to lovers’ sad despair,
Thou calm’t ambitions rough tempestuous care.
If in regard of bliss thou wert a curse,
And then the joys of Paradise art worse;
Yet after man from his first station fell,
And God from Eden Adam did expel,
Thou wert no more an evil, but relief;
The balm and cure to every human grief:
Through thee (what man had forfeited before)
He now enjoys, and ne’er can lose it more.
No subtle serpents in the grave betray.
Worms on the body there, not soul do prey;
No vice there tempts, no terrors there affright,
No cozening sin affords a false delight:
No vain contentions do that peace annoy,
No fierce alarms break the lasting joy.

Ah since from thee so many blessings flow,
Such real good as life can never know;
Come when thou wilt, in thy affrighting’st dress,
Thy shape shall never make thy welcome less.
Thou mayst to joy, but ne’er to fear give birth,
Thou best, as well as certain’st thing on Earth.
Fly thee? May travellers then fly their rest,
And hungry infants fly the proferred breast.
No, those that faint and tremble at thy name,
Fly from their good on a mistaken fame.
Thus childish fear did Israel of old
From plenty and the Promised Land withhold;
They fancied giants, and refused to go,
When Canaan did with milk and honey flow.