Archive for the ‘Numbers 14’ Tag

To Glorify and Enjoy God   1 comment

St. John the Baptist Preaching

Above:  St. John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 14:1-25

Psalm 144

John 3:22-38

Hebrews 5:11-6:20

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Happy are the people to whom such blessings falls;

happy are the people whose God is the LORD.

–Psalm 144:15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Timothy Matthew Slemmons, in creating his proposed Year D, has grouped stories of rebellion against God and cautions against opposing God together in Advent.  It is a useful tactic, for, as much as one might know something, reminders prove helpful.

In Hebrews we read of the reality of apostasy (falling away from God) and the imperative of not doing so.  It is a passage with which those whose theology precludes the possibility of apostasy must contend.  I, as one raised a United Methodist and, as of a few years ago, converted to affirming Single Predestination, know much about the theology of free will in relation to salvation.  On a lighter note, I also recall an old joke about Methodists:  Not only do they believe in falling from grace, but they practice it often.  (If one cannot be religious and have a well-developed sense of humor, one has a major problem.)  Although I like Methodism in general (more so than certain regional variations of it), I cannot be intellectually honest and return to it, given Methodist theology regarding the denial of Single Predestination.

As Hebrews 6:19-20 tells us, the faithfulness of God is the anchor of our souls, and Jesus is a forerunner on our behalf.  In John 3:22-38 we read of his forerunner, St. John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus, not to himself.  I have no doubt that

He must grow greater; I must become less.

–John 3:30, The Revised English Bible (1989),

words attributed to St. John the Baptist, are not historical.  Neither do I doubt their theological truth.  St. John the Baptist probably said something to the effect of that sentence, I argue.  I also insist that those words apply to all of us in the human race.  Jesus must grow greater; each of us must become less.  To act according to the ethos of glorifying oneself might lead to short-term gain, but it also leads to negative consequences for oneself in the long term and for others in the short, medium, and long terms.

The call of God entails the spiritual vocation of humility, or, in simple terms, of being down to earth.  The highest and chief end of man, the Westminster Catechisms teach us correctly, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  To arrive at that point one must trust in and follow God, whom we ought not to forget or neglect at any time, but especially in December, in the immediate temporal proximity of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACK LAYTON, CANADIAN ACTIVIST AND FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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The Extravagance of God and the Irrepressible Kingdom of God   1 comment

Garlic Mustard Plant Invasion

Above:  Garlic Mustard Plant Invasion

Photographer = Steve Hillebrand, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 13:17-27

Psalm 39

Luke 13:18-21

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Numbers 13:17-27 and Luke 13:18-21 speak of the extravagant generosity of God.

Canaan, the Promised Land, is the bountiful territory overflowing with milk and honey in Numbers 13.  One finds similarly wonderful descriptions of the promise of the Jewish homeland after God has ended the Babylonian Exile later in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Those were dashed hopes, as the narrative of the Old Testament indicates, but the hope for a better future free from deprivation and foreign occupation continues to inspire people living in difficult circumstances.

Unfortunately, the ubiquitous slave mentality and unreasoning fear of the Canaanites led many Israelites to oppose entering Canaan.  Many, according to Numbers 14:3, regretted ever having left Egypt, where they were slaves but at least the leftovers were nice.  God punished the generation which had left Egypt, the Book of Numbers tells us, by granting them their wish not to enter Canaan.  At least God was merciful enough to refrain from striking them dead or sending them back to Egypt.

The generosity–grace–of God–demands a faithful response.  What will we do with grace?  Will we even accept it and its accompanying responsibilities?  Human life is transient, as the author of Psalm 39 understood well, but it does offer many opportunities to function as an agent of God to others.

Cedar of Lebanon

Above:  A Cedar of Lebanon, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-06183

Luke 13:18-21 provides two brief parables illustrating the irrepressible nature of the Kingdom of God.  In the first parable (verses 18 and 19) the Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed, the small beginning of a large, if not noble, mustard plant–a large shrub, really.  A mustard plant, which can grow to be as large as twelve feet tall, offers shelter to a variety of birds.  Implicit in the Lukan version of the parable is that Gentiles are welcome in the Kingdom of God.  The parable shocks by not invoking the image of a mighty, impressive cedar of Lebanon.  Such imagery would indicate a mature plant.  The imagery of a mustard plant, however, promises continued growth.  The Kingdom of God is present among us, but not fully; there is more to come.

Then again [Jesus] said,

“What can I say the kingdom of God is like?  It is like the yeast which a woman took and covered up in three measures of flour until the whole had risen.”

–Luke 13:20-21, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

The second parable is that of yeast which a woman hides in three measures (fifty pounds) of flour.  Most contemporary translations I consulted render a certain Greek word as “mixed,” but the proper meaning is “hid.”  The Revised Standard Version (1946, 1952, and 1971), the Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (1965), the Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002), and the New American Standard Bible (1971 and 1995) render that word properly as “hid.”  The 1958 and 1972 editions of The New Testament in Modern English (J. B. Phillips) use “covered up,” which makes the same point.  The woman in the parable seeks to conceal the yeast by hiding it in flour, but the yeast permeates the flour instead.  The parable contains the element of hyperbole, for baking 50 pounds of flour, enough to feed 150 people, at one time, is perhaps improbable.  The hyperbole points to the extravagance of God and the irrepressible nature of the Kingdom of God.

Nobody among mortals can conceal or destroy the Kingdom of God.  That lesson comforts me.  Secularization of society and religious persecution are powerless to conceal or destroy the Kingdom of God, which is like yeast pervading the whole.  The blood of the martyrs waters the church, which has, in certain times and at certain places, gone underground yet remained alive.  The lesson here is about what God does, often despite what certain people do.  God is sovereign.  We can accept or reject that reality, but we can never change it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Fidelity and Spiritual Community   1 comment

Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise--Gustave Dore

Above:  Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 14:10b-24

Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

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Remember the marvels God has done,

the wonders and the judgments of God’s mouth,

O offspring of Abraham, God’s servant,

 children of Jacob, God’s chosen.

–Psalm 105:5-6, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Yet the generation of Israelites who left Egypt as free people retained a slave mentality.  Members of that generation witnessed many astonishing acts of God on their behalf yet reacted fearfully when they learned that they might have to act faithfully, to do something, albeit with divine assistance.  They feared to enter Canaan, so their desire not to go there became their punishment from God.

As a cliché tells us, be careful what you wish for; you might get it.

St. Paul the Apostle, engaging in the tradition of interpreting biblical stories metaphorically, used accounts from the Torah to encourage Christians at Corinth to live faithfully, to refrain from sin as much as possible, and to cease from grumbling.  The Apostle, convinced that the end of evil times was near, wrote:

If you think you are standing firm, take care, or you may fall.  So far you have faced no trial beyond human endurance; God keeps faith and will not let you be tested beyond your powers, but when the test comes he will at the same time provide a way out and so enable you to endure.

–1 Corinthians 10:12-13, The Revised English Bible (1989)

That passage contains two major points.  First, people ought to avoid spiritual complacency.  That is always excellent counsel.  Second, “you,” as in

So far you have faced no trial beyond human endurance…,

is plural.  The pericope from 1 Corinthians 10 addresses a congregation, not an individual.  The plural nature of “you” in this passage is clear in the Nouvelle Version Segond Revisee (1978), in which the pronoun is the plural vous, not the singular tu.

The walk of faith is one a person takes as part of a spiritual community, not as a rugged individualist.  One depends on the other members of the spiritual community, to whom and for whom they one is responsible, and on God, on whom one depends entirely.  One’s strength is in God and spiritual community, not in oneself.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 17, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND PIANO BUILDER; AND HIS SON, JACOB CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN PIANO BUILDER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/17/devotion-for-tuesday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Rest in God   1 comment

Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise Gustave Dore

Above:  Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith,

that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead,

we may follow the way of your commandments

and receive the crown of everlasting joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 5:1-21 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 5:22-33 (Friday)

Psalm 90:12-17 (Both Days)

Hebrews 3:17-19 (Thursday)

Hebrews 4:1-11 (Friday)

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FYI:  Those of you who compare and contrast versification in translations of the Bible might notice that Deuteronomy 5:1-30 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox versions equals 5:1-33 in Protestant translations.

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So teach us to number our days

that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

–Psalm 90:12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Trust and obedience to God undergird the readings for these two days.

Deuteronomy 5, which contains the Ten Commandments, concludes with these words:

Be careful, then, to do as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Do not turn aside to the right or to the left:  follow only the path that the LORD your God has enjoined upon you, so that you may thrive and that it may go well with you and that you may long endure in the land you are to possess.

–Verses 29-30, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

One had to arrive first, however.  In Numbers 14, after spies had returned from their mission to Canaan, fear and faithlessness spread through the population.

I the LORD have spoken:  Thus will I do to all that wicked band that has banded together against Me:  in this very wilderness they shall die to the last man.

–Numbers 14:35, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who assumed that David had written Psalm 95, referred to that text:

Forty years I was provoked by that generation;

I thought, “They are a senseless people;

they would not know my ways.”

Concerning them I swore in anger,

“They shall never come to my resting-place!”

–Verses 10-11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Promised Land is the resting-place in Psalm 95, as is one meaning of the Greek word katapausis in the readings from Hebrews.  There are two words for “rest” in them; the other refers to sabbath rest.  Katapausis has two other meanings in the Letter to the Hebrews:

  1. The rest God took after the sixth day of creation; this definition has eschatological overtones; and
  2. The peace of God.

The latter is the ultimate meaning of katapausis in the readings from Hebrews.  Entrance into the peace of God requires trust and obedience.

But what does that mean in practical terms?  Many voices compete to answer that question.  Many of them horrify me.  Those, for example, who argue that fidelity to God requires mutilating offenders and killing heretics and unbelievers appall me.  (Some of those sources quote the Bible word-for-word while ignoring inconvenient passages.)  Those who justify their violence by placing a false stamp of divine approval on it offend me.  I do not pretend to know the mind of God, for I affirm the mystery of the divine.  Yet I state clearly that one can, by considering the example of Jesus, learn much about the requirements for being a Christian.  Loving one’s neighbors as one loves oneself (presuming, of course, that one loves oneself) is part of obeying God, I affirm.

The author of Hebrews referred to Joshua, son of Nun, in 4:8.  May we who call ourselves Christians follow our Joshua–Jesus–into the peace of God.  May we lay aside the fear which leads to disobedience to and lack of trust in God.  May we, by grace, come into that divine rest and lead others to it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF IMMANUEL NITSCHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICIAN; HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, JACOB VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS SON, WILLIAM HENRY VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS BROTHER, CARL ANTON VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS DAUGHTER, LISETTE (LIZETTA) MARIA VAN VLECK MEINUNG; AND HER SISTER, AMELIA ADELAIDE VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN CENNICK, BRITISH MORAVIAN EVANGELIST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-23-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Numbers and Luke, Part V: Illusions and Attachments as Idols   1 comment

500-bill-1918

Above:  A United States $500 Bill from 1918  

$500 in 1918= $7,470 in 2011 (Consumer Price Index)

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 14:1-25 (43th Day of Easter)

Numbers 14:26-45 (44th Day of Easter)

Psalm 93 (Morning–43th Day of Easter)

Psalm 97 (Morning–44th Day of Easter)

Psalms 136 and 117 (Evening–43th Day of Easter)

Psalms 124 and 115 (Evening–44th Day of Easter)

Luke 18:18-34 (43th Day of Easter)

Luke 18:35-19:10 (44th Day of Easter)

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Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-seventh-sunday-of-easter/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-seventh-sunday-of-easter/

Numbers 14:1-25

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/week-of-proper-13-wednesday-year-1/

Luke 18-19:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/week-of-proper-28-monday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/week-of-proper-28-tuesday-year-1/

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I found Richard Elliott Friedman’s Commentary on the Torah (2001) helpful in understanding what happened in Numbers 14.  (Aside:  If you, O reader, do not have a copy of that excellent book, you might want to purchase one.)  The spies/scouts have returned from their mission.  Some have warned in dire tones of the dangers there.  As Friedman pointed out and I did notice, they had not mentioned God.  But Caleb was more optimistic, ready to go back with the rest of the population.

In Numbers 14 the community laments the possibility of going to Canaan.  Dying in the desert seems preferable.  Even returning to Egypt, where they had been slaves, seems better than going to Canaan.  Caleb and Joshua try to calm the people, to no avail.  God, angry, threatens to destroy the faithless people, but Moses talks God down.  Instead, God decrees, the people will get their wish:  they will die in the desert.  This does not make them happy either.  And those who, against divine instructions, go up against the Canaanites and the Amalekites without God’s blessing and the Ark of the Covenant perish.

As Friedman stresses, the problem was a slave mentality.  The faithless people had not had to act before.  The Egyptians had acted upon them and made decisions for them.  God had liberated them and provided them with manna and quail in the desert.  (They did have to eat.)  But resettling Canaan would require effort.  It would require them to decide then to act.

An entire generation’s experience is not easily reversed.

–Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah (2001), page 475

The faithless Israelites clung tenaciously to nostalgia (for slavery, oddly enough) and to a slave mentality.  The rich man in Luke 18:18-23 clung to his wealth, which blinded him to his total dependence on God.  Zacchaeus (in Luke 19:1-10) preferred an attachment to Jesus to one to wealth and the illusion of independence.

Illusions and attachments can be the most difficult idols from which to divorce ourselves.  An idol, of course, is anything which distracts us from God.  Statutes of pagan deities are obvious idols, but concepts can be less obvious and more powerful ones.  We depend entirely on God.  We cannot pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps.  Yes, we have an obligation to cooperate with God, but we cannot save ourselves.  And grace–that which we do not do–requires much of us.  It requires us to decide then to act.  It is free, not cheap.

Which illusions and attachments are your most powerful idols, O reader?  I must recognize and confront mine.  May you do the same to yours.  And may we succeed via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 21, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL FAITHFUL MEMBERS OF THE CLERGY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, JESUIT

THE FEAST OF HENARE WIREMU TARATOA OF TE RANGA, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN JONES AND JOHN RIGBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/devotion-for-the-forty-third-and-forty-fourth-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Consequences of a Slave Mentality   1 comment

Above:  The Sinai Peninsula (Gemini 11, 1966)

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Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-35 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Send men and let them scout the land of Canaan that I’m giving to the children of Israel.  You shall send one man for each tribe of his fathers, every one of them a chieftain.

And they came back from scouting the land at the end of forty days.  And they went and came to Moses and to Aaron and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, to the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and all the congregation and showed them the land’s fruit.

And they told him and said,

We came to the land where you sent us, and also it’s flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  Nonetheless:  the people who live in the land are strong.  And the cities are fortified, very big.  And also we saw the offering of the giants there.  Amalek lives in the land of the Negeb, and the Hittite and the Jebusite and the Amorite live in the mountains, and the Canaanite lives by the sea and along the Jordan.

And Caleb quieted the people toward Moses and said,

Let’s go up, and we’ll take possession of it, because we’ll be able to handle it.

And the men who went up to him said,

We won’t be able to go up against the people, because they’re stronger than we are.

And they brought out a report of the land that they had scouted to the children of Israel, saying,

The land through which we passed to scout it:  it’s a land that eats those who live in it, and all the people whom we saw in it were people of size!And we saw the Nephilim there, sons of giants ffrom the Nephilim, and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.

And all the congregation raised and let out their voices!  And the people wept that night.

And YHWH spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,

How much farther for this bad congregation, that they’re complaining against me?  I’ve heard the complaints of the children of Israel that they’re making against me.  Say to them:  As I live–word of YHWH–what you have spoken in my ears, that is what I’ll do for you!  In this wilderness your carcasses will fall; and all of you who were counted, for all your number, from twenty years old and up, who complained against me, I swear that you won’t come to the land that I raised my hand to have you reside there–except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.  And your infants, whom you said would become a spoil:  I’ll bring them, and they will know the land that you rejected!  And you:  your carcasses will fall in this wilderness.  And your children will be roving the wilderness forty years, and they’ll bear your whoring until the end of your carcasses in the wilderness.  For the number of days that you scouted the land, forty days, you shall bear your crimes a day for each year, forty years, and you shall know my frustratration!  I, YHWH, have spoken:  If I shall not do this to all the bad congregation who are gathered against me:  in this wilderness they shall end, and they shall die there!

Psalm 106:6-14, 21-23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

We have sinned as our forefathers did;

we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.

In Egypt they did not consider your marvelous works,

not remember the abundance of your love;

they defied the Most High at the Red Sea.

8 But he saved them for his Name’s sake,

to make his power known.

He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up,

and he led them through the deep as through a desert.

10 He saved them from the hand of those who hated them

and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

11 The waters covered their oppressors;

not one on them was left.

12 Then they believed his words

and sang him songs of praise.

13 But they soon forgot his deeds

and did not wait for his counsel.

14 A craving seized them in the wilderness,

and they put God to the test in the desert.

21 They forgot God their Savior,

who had done great things in Egypt,

22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,

and fearful things at the Red Sea.

23 So he would have destroyed them,

had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,

to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

Matthew 15:21-28 (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

Jesus then left that place and retired into the Tyre and Sidon district.  There a Canaanite woman from those parts came to him crying at the top of her voice,

Lord, son of David, have pity on me!  My daughter is in a terrible state–a devil has got into her!

Jesus made no answer, and the disciples came up to him and said, “Do not send her away–she’s still following us and calling out.”

“I was only sent, ” replied Jesus, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Then the woman came and knelt at his feet.

Lord, help me,

she said.

It is not right, you know,

Jesus replied,

to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

The woman replied,

Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs live on the scraps that fall from their master’s table!

Jesus returned,

You certainly don’t lack faith; it shall be as you wish.

And at that moment her daughter was healed.

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The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Sometimes I wish that biblical authors had noted the tone of voice in which a person, such as Jesus, spoke, when writing about certain incidents.  The story of the conversation between Jesus and the Gentile woman is such a case.  But some details in the account provide fascinating clues.

Most importantly, Jesus was in the district of Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile central.  And he went there voluntarily.  If he had a serious attitude problem regarding Gentiles, he would not have gone there voluntarily.  It is also vital to note that he granted the woman’s request to heal her daughter, even after his comment about throwing table scraps to dogs, who were allegedly impure and unclean animals, not beloved furry family members, as many North Americans think of domesticated canines.  But the woman expected our Lord’s mercy and made her case for it to his face.  She had faith and was persistent in it, and she went away satisfied.  She passed the test.

The Gentile woman did not have a slave mentality.  But the generation of Israelites that escaped from Egypt did.

Professor Richard Elliott Friedman makes the case for the existence of this slave mentality in his Commentary on the Torah.  Time after time the children of Israel had waxed nostalgic about Egyptian table scraps and complained about how God provided for them in the wilderness.  Mentally, they were still in Egypt, where they depended upon their overlords.  But YHWH offered them something far better–freedom.  Alas, they were not ready for it.  They were afraid of so much, mostly that they would die in the desert.  So they reacted fearfully.  Those actions had consequences, including their death in the wilderness.  Those who lacked a slave mentality were destined to reach the promised land.

This is what is really going on the the reading from Numbers.  The origin of the Nephilim is an interesting intellectual and mythological knot to attempt to untie, but it serves no useful devotional purpose for me today.  The Nephilim scared many Israelites; that is the important detail about them today.  The lack of faith and prevalence of fear in this matter constituted the last straw for YHWH in Numbers 14.  That is vital in this account.

At this time my mind turns to James 4:1-6.  It reads:

What causes fighting and quarrels among you?  Is not their origin the appetites that war in your bodies?  You want what you cannot have, so you murder; you are envious, and cannot attain your ambition, so you quarrel and fight.  You do not get what you want, because you do not pray for it.  Or, if you do, your requests are not granted, because you pray from wrong motives, in order to squander what you get on your pleasures.  Unfaithful creatures!  Surely you know that love of the world means enmity to God?  Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.  Or do you suppose that scripture has no point when it says that the spirit which God implanted in us is filled with envious longings?  But the grace he gives is stronger; thus scripture says, ‘God opposes the arrogant and gives grace to the humble.’”  (Revised English Bible, 1989)

Humility, contrary to a widespread misunderstanding, is not beating one’s breast and considering oneself a worthless excuse for a human being.  That is low self-esteem.  No, being humble is having a realistic self-image in relation to God.  So a healthy ego–one neither too small nor raging out of control–is part and parcel of humility.  We humans bear the image of God, and therefore have inherent dignity others are obligated to recognize and respect.  The Gentile woman knew that she and her daughter had inherent human dignity Jesus was obliged to recognize and respect.  She insisted on this, and Jesus granted her request.  She asked–properly–for a just cause, and she received what she requested.  She was humble.

On the other hand, those Israelites with a slave mentality were not humble.  And neither did they expect the best, which they did not receive.  It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They were responsible for what happened to them.

Which story more nearly describes you?  If the answer to that question is damning, you can rewrite the rest of your narrative.  The children of Israel had many such opportunities, and they wasted them.  Learn from these ancient accounts.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 24, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE ORDINATION OF FLORENCE LI-TIM-OE, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GENEVA

THE FEAST OF THURGOOD MARSHALL, ATTORNEY AND JURIST

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BARCLAY, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/week-of-proper-13-wednesday-year-1/

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