Today’s reading: Numbers 10-19, Psalm 19
Welcome to the Twilight Zone–or so it would seem in a set of readings today that are reminiscent of sci-fi or even horror scenes. What in the world is going on?
I’m turning to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman for help in understanding what is happening here. Brueggeman sets the context by reminding us that the book of Numbers originated during the sixth century BCE, a time of exile when the people of Israel were captives in Babylon. In this context, it is composed as an “imaginative, interpretive venture” (Brueggeman’s wording) to communicate the importance of obedience as the way back home to Jerusalem. Today, then, is a good day to remember a guide for reading that I offered on Day 1.
Instead of being perplexed by the question, “Did that really happen?” in relation to events in this section of Numbers, we might ask the question, “Is it true that there are consequences for failing to be obedient to God’s will?” The answer to this question is a resounding yes. We can see the damage all around us; and much of it is self-inflicted as we make choices to abandon God’s direction for our lives and instead seek to take control of it ourselves. This really is the underlying sin that is present throughout today’s reading and throughout our world. Ruined marriages, war and violence, failed economies, bankrupted households can all be traced at some level back to a desire to do it “my way” rather than God’s way.
Nevertheless, there is hope, because the truth also is that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Numbers 14:18). In today’s story, Joshua and Caleb represent for us the way forward–recommitting ourselves to this God who deserves our full attention.