Archive for the ‘Numbers 12’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 9 (Ackerman)   1 comment

Above:   Christ Healing, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

Compassion and the Sabbath

JULY 3, 2022


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


Numbers 12:1-15

Psalm 53

Acts 12:6-19

Luke 14:2-6


The standard English-language translation of the opening line of Psalms 14 and 53 is that a fool thinks that there is no God.   However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) has the benighted man thinking that God does not care.   This gets to the point of practical atheism, not the modern, widespread reality of theoretical atheism, rare in the ancient Middle East.  Indeed, God cares jealously in the Bible.  God objects strenuously whenever someone challenges Moses.  God also sends an angel to break St. Simon Peter out of prison.

The portion from Luke 14 exists within a larger narrative context–the eschatological banquet, symbolic of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is at a banquet at the home of a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath.   In the reading assigned for today our Lord and Savior heals a man afflicted with dropsy, or severe retention of fluid.  The fact that he does this on the Sabbath becomes controversial immediately.  Jesus rebuts that even they rescue a child or an ox from a well on the Sabbath.  They cannot argue against him.

Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament (1997), wrote the following:

Actually at Qumran there was a prohibition of pulling a newborn animal our of a pit on the Sabbath (CD 11:13-14).

–Page 248

Every day is a proper day to act out of compassion, according to Jesus, although not the community at Qumran.

In the great eschatological banquet the blind, the lame, the poor, and the crippled are welcome–even preferred guests.   One ought to invite them because it is the right thing to do.  One should commit good deeds out of compassion and piety, not the desire for reciprocal treatment.  Grace is not transactional.

The temptation to relate to God in transactional terms is a powerful one.  It is, among other things, a form of works-based righteousness, a major theological error.  Keeping the Covenant, at its best, is a matter of faithful response to God.  (“If you love me, keep my commandments.”–John 14:15)  However useful having a list of instructions can be, that list can easily become for one a checklist to manipulate, until one violates major tenets while honoring minor facets.  In the Jewish tradition one finds longstanding recognition of a summary of the Law of Moses:  Love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.

So healing a man on the Sabbath should not be controversial, should it?  (John 7:22-24)

But what about Sabbath laws?  There is a death penalty for working on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), except when there is not (Leviticus 12:3).  If the eighth day of a boy’s life falls on the Sabbath, the circumcision of the child must, according to the Law of Moses, occur on the Sabbath.  But do not dare to collect sticks on the Sabbath!   Removing part of a male on the Sabbath is permissible, so why not making someone whole?

Every day is a good day to act compassionately, according to Jesus.  God cares about the needs of people each day.  So should we.









Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 23, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Moses Prays for Miriam To Be Healed

Above:   Moses Prays for the Healing of Miriam

Image in the Public Domain

Inclusion and Exclusion

OCTOBER 8, 2022


The Collect:

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.

Keep us safe from all that may hurt us,

that, whole and well in body and spirit,

we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us to do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50


The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 14:33-53 (Thursday)

Numbers 4:34-5:4 (Friday)

Psalm 111 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 1:13-18 (Thursday)

2 Timothy 2:1-7 (Friday)



I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

–Psalm 111:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The word “leprosy,” in the Bible, has a broad definition, applying to a variety of diseases of the skin.  Such conditions also fall under the heading of ritual impurity (consult Numbers 5:2a) and require a time of isolation before one returns to one’s community and to a state of ritual purity (consult Leviticus 13).

In Numbers 12 Miriam spoke negatively of Moses.  Her punishment was a bad case of snow-white scales, which usually would have caused her to go away for two weeks.  It became seven days, however, due to the intercession of her esteemed brother.  The rabbinical name for her condition was metzora, from motzi’ shem ra’, or “uttering an evil name.”  Her sin was slander, but the object of that offense pleaded to God on her behalf.  A time of removal from the community was inevitable, but the goal of the leadership of that community was always restoration.

In Luke 5 Jesus healed a man with some kind of skin disease.  It was not leprosy, in the narrow, clinical definition of that term, but it was enough to render the man ritually impure and to isolate him from his community.  Then Jesus commanded him to obey the requirements of Leviticus 14 and not to tell anyone (other than the priest, per Leviticus 14).  Perhaps the man went to the priest, but he certainly spread the word, causing crowds to deny Jesus as much solitude as he needed.

Salvation was Christ’s primary task on the Earth; healing was something he did.  Did crowds come to him mostly to hear the words of salvation or to seek healing?  Quite often they flocked to him for the latter purpose.  There was nothing wrong with seeking wholeness and restoration, of course, but there was much more to Christ’s mission than individual wholeness and restoration.  There was, for example, collective wholeness and restoration.

A community cannot be at its best when people who should be part of it are not.  Such people might be outsiders by their choice or the decisions of others.  Many people are outsiders because self-identified insiders exclude them, often wrongly.  Frequently we human beings define ourselves negatively–according to who or what we are not.  This practice harms us and those we exclude improperly.  As Professor Luke Timothy Johnson says, one message in the Gospel of Mark is that those who think they are insiders might actually be outsiders.  And, as Edmond Browning, a former Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, writes, in Christ there are no outsiders.

May we who follow God (or at least attempt to do so) identify as children of God who bear the divine image and respect the image of God in our fellow human beings.  Theological and personality differences will persist, of course, but we need not seek to define ourselves negatively and, by extension, others in the same way.






Week of Proper 13: Tuesday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  Contrition

Image in the Public Domain

Human Sins and Divine Judgment and Mercy

AUGUST 8, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Numbers 12:1-15 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses about the Cushite wife whom he had taken–because he had taken a Cushite wife.  And they said,

Has YHWH only just spoken through Moses?  Hasn’t he also spoken through us?

And YHWH heard.

And the man Moses was very humble, more than every human who was on the face of the earth.

And YHWH said suddenly to Moses and to Aaron and to Miriam,

Go out, the three of you, to the Tent of Meeting.

And the three of them went out.  And YHWH came down in a column of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent.  And He called,

Aaron and Miriam.

And the two of them went out.  And He said,

Hear my words:

If there will be a prophet among you,

I, YHWH, will be known to him in a vision;

in a dream I shall speak through him.

Not so is my servant Moses;

in all my house he is faithful.

Mouth to mouth I shall speak through him

and vision and not in enigmas,

and he will see the form of YHWH.

And why did you not fear to speak against my servant,

against Moses?”

And YHWH’s anger flared against them, and He went.  And the cloud turned from over the tent; and, here, Miriam was leprous, like snow.  And Aaron turned to Miriam, and, here, she was leprous.  And Aaron said to Moses,

In me, my lord.  Don’t set a sin on us, which we did foolishly and which we sinned.  Let her not be like the dead who, when he comes out of his mother’s womb, half of his flesh is eaten up!

And Moses cried out to YHWH, saying,

Oh, God, heal her!

And YHWH said to Moses,

And if her father had spit in her face, wouldn’t she be humiliated seven days?  Let her be closed up seven days outside the camp, and after that let her be gathered back.

And Miriam was closed up outside the camp seven days.  And people did not travel until Miriam were gathered back, and after that the people traveled from Hazeroth.  And they camped in the Paran wilderness.

Psalm 51:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak

and upright in your judgment.

6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,

and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem came and asked Jesus,

Why do your disciples break our ancient tradition and eat their food without washing their hands properly first?

Then he called the crowd to him and said,

Listen, and understand this thoroughly!  It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that makes him common or unclean.  It is what comes out of a man’s mouth that makes him unclean.

Later his disciples came to him and said,

Do you know that the Pharisees are deeply offended by what you said?

Jesus returned,

Every plant which my Heavenly Father did not plant will be pulled up by the roots.  Let them alone.  They are blind guides, and when one blind man leads another blind man they will both fall into the ditch!


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.


There is much confusion about the details of Numbers 16.  I assume the veracity of the Documentary Hypothesis, so scholarly interpretations of whether or not the Cushite (perhaps Ethiopian) wife of Moses is Zipporah or a second wife.  As interesting as that intellectual Gordian knot is, it does not serve any devotional purpose.  No, the simplest possible interpretation does that.  So, for the next few paragraphs, I proceed from that assumption that the unnamed Cushite wife is not Zipporah.

So Aaron and Miriam, the brother and sister of Moses, challenge their brother’s prophetic authority over this Cushite wife.  Let us be clear:  Cushites, according to the Torah, were descended from Noah via Ham.  So they were cousins, if you will.  They were also dark-skinned, not that Moses was pale.  Many of us carry European art- and Hollywood-Bible-epic-influenced images of biblical figures looked.  Ancient Semites did not look like Charlton Heston or Max von Sydow.

Anyhow, in our story God metes out punishment to Miriam, rendering her white, the opposite of Nubian.  How is that for poetic justice.  Moses intercedes for her, but God insists that she face punishment for seven days, which is what she would have faced if her father had insulted her by spitting in her face.  This last detail, plus the fact that Aaron did not face any penalty, seems alien to those of us influenced by modern feminism.  And we might be correct.  All I can say is that I did not write these stories, which come from a different culture with many assumptions we find abhorrent.  The Ten Commandments condemn adultery as a violation of the aggrieved husband’s property rights, the wife being the property, for example.  There is nothing wrong with arguing with these texts.

Anyhow, as I have written before, divine judgment and mercy coexist in the Bible.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus faces a question from some religious critics.  It seems that his disciples did not wash their hands ceremonially, and thereby ran afoul of ritual purity codes.  This bothered some scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus, in 15:3-9, criticizes his critics for condoning the practice of Korban, by which people left property to the religious establishment and deprived their relatives of necessary means of support. Korban was a detrimental tradition and a corruption of laws.  So, Jesus says, the real impurity is internal, not superficial.

The traditional English-language translation for this part of Matthew’s Gospel uses the word “defile” and variations thereof.  Yet I prefer the J. B. Phillips version because of its non-traditional choice:  “common or unclean.”  It gets to the point.  Ritual purity codes were about being uncommon, removed from the great unwashed masses.  They became occasions of the sin of pride, an offense of which our Lord’s adversaries in this account might not have been consciously aware.

These men needed to repent–to change their minds and turn around.  Jesus pointed out their sins to them.  Did they repent?  The narrative does not indicate any outcome, although it implies that they did not.  And Aaron, at least, seemed penitent, but what about Miriam?  She is silent at the end of Numbers 12.

You and I have enough free will to influence our narratives.  May the content of Psalm 51 be part of that spiritual journey.  And may we look deeply, not superficially, for impurity.  This is a great challenge, but grace is available to help us undertake then complete it–if we dare.  May we do so.