2014-11-02 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
Echo the Story #9 of 36: WANDERING
“Numbers – – Counting Up Failure & Faithfulness”
Today we get one last look at Moses in the GodStory…Moses was one of the greatest leaders of the First Testament…faithful, tenacious, stubborn, wise, humble…and wow did he have a temper! I’m pretty sure it was usually “righteous anger” but it’s interesting how time after time we read…Moses was enraged…Moses was furious…Moses departed in anger. Moses was, shall we say, full of “Mose Rage” lots of the time? I trust he had a good therapist.
We enter today’s story and find ourselves in a pattern that pretty well sums up Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness…complaint, judgment, repentance, reorientation. I hope again, that we can find ourselves at home in the GodStory (these people weren’t perfect & pious…isn’t that comforting?)
For the past several weeks we have been teaching these stories as words of hope for those in Exile and this week it’s no different.
Israel…in 580 BC…had once again found themselves in the wilderness. They had lost their land, they had lost their culture, they had lost their comforts, their forms/places of worship…and so they wrote down this story to remind themselves that even though their failed ways had landed them in a heap of despair…YHWH was still with them….as God had proved faithful in the midst of the failures of the past, so too, God will prove faithful in the midst of the failures of the present.
Hang on Exilians…hang on! That promise if for us too, we who are in Exile to the powers and the principalities of 2014 North-americanism.
[do I need to expand on this a bit?]
Imagine Moses…110 years old…wizened lines etched upon his face…eyes full of passion, experience and depth. He’s been with this group of nomads (50,000 or so? Despite the hyperbole of v.26) for 30 years so not much surprises him anymore…but perhaps he didn’t realize that he was a little “shorn at the edges” at this point in the journey…
The moans and groans of Israelite lament….is like the bleating of sheep…
Children, women and men weeping…
“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt…for nothing!….the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions…and hmmm, the garlic; but NOW our strength is dried up, and there is NOTHING at all but this manna to look at.”
The chorus of 10’s of thousands…weeping, wailing…mumbling to themselves, grumbling aloud…standing with arms crossed at the entrance of their tents…
If a picture paints a thousand words, the “picture” is pushing Moses over the edge!
He runs up to a nearby high plain that had become a place of shelter and retreat for him. It’s dusk…and Moses begins shouting at the approaching darkness…
“LORD….LORD! Why have you treated me so badly?
Have I not found favour in your sight? That you would lay the burden of all this people on me?
Did I conceive all this people?
Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom,
as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that YOU promised on oath to their ancestors?
Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once —
if I have found favour in your sight – and do not let me see my misery.”
Moses crumbles to his knees. His shaking fist falls to his side and he too, like his detractors, begins weeping.
He’s exhausted. He’s distraught. And he’s got nowhere to go.
After 30 minutes of silence, he’s awoken from his slumber by a familiar voice.
The LORD says:
“Gather for me 70 of the elders of Israel…I will come down and talk with you…and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.”
“As for the people…tell them to prepare themselves…the LORD will give you meat, not just for 1, 2, 5, 10 or 20 days, but for a whole month – until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you.”
* * * * *
Whoa, whoa, whoa!
Is this promise? Or is this punishment?
Feels like a bit of both…God talking out of both sides of his mouth!
And so, how, might this story be good news for exiles?
Well, YHWH’s first response feels fairly good-news-esque…Are you weary? Heavy laden? Come to me…and I will come to you…and I will give you rest.
YHWH assures Moses that he is not alone…the SAME spirit that has been poured out upon him, will be poured out upon others…even a few days later (in verses 24-29) it seems that the spirit is even mysteriously “leaking out” to others beyond the 70 elders! Joshua (who we’ll see more of next week) the right-hand-man of Moses, accesses the situation and says – “Let’s nip this in the bud Moses…stop them!”
But Moses replies: “Let the spirit flow…O that ALL of the LORD’s people would be prophets…that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” [v. 29]
This is good news for US…we the people of God…in Edmonton…at FBC…in 2014.
We are not destined to do this work of “exile” care and faith-stretching for each other in our own strength. The same spirit that fell thousands of years ago keeps on falling today…enabling us to bear the burden with one another…
We press into the promise…
“And they shall bear the burden of the people along with you, so that you will not bear it all by yourself.”
– – – – – – – –
Now YHWH’s 2nd response feels…shall we say…complicated? Kind of gives your nostrils that congested, wheezy feeling doesn’t it?
In response to the Israelites moaning and groaning, the people of God will soon find themselves nose-deep in quail. A 4-foot deep river of quail…2 miles long, snaking its way through the Israelite camp and literally suffocating the life out of them!
How do we hear…or receive this?
Is this the threat of God?
Is this God ready to pounce on his wayward creation for whining and whaling?
Is this God’s “I told you so” in the wilderness?
But….but….I thought God put his bow in the sky? How come he’s so bent on vengeance?
Well, some Christians reconcile it by saying: “Well, sometimes God just does what God needs to do. His ways our higher”…and in this instance, his ways are waves that are about 4 feet high…pumelling the masses and brimming with quivering, squawking, quail…
But…it’s probably not God’s way/HEART to dole out wanton punishment…is it?
Eugene Peterson offers a different way of shaping the context of this judgment scenario…one word…Adolescence!
When Peterson reflects on the early drama of the GodStory,
Genesis = Conception
Exodus = Birth/Infancy
Leviticus = Schooling
Numbers = Adolescence
Peterson says: “The book of Numbers plunges us into the mess of growing up.”
“We who find ourselves called and led and commanded by God find ourselves in the company of those who sin a lot – we quarrel, bicker, grumble, fornicate, steal…you name it!….We need help…and wise discipline is required in becoming the people of God.”
So in the phase of Adolescence. A good parent shows up with Wise Discipline.
And for the Israelites. It seems that God’s “wise discipline” puts them “Nose Deep in Quail.”
And just to be clear…I’m not just picking on the teenagers in the congregation today!
‘Cuz we don’t need to look too far back in our journey…(a few years ago…a few mintues ago?) to see times when we live like adolescents. We all have our “adolescent” moments throughout our lives…it doesn’t magically stop when we turn 19 (or…)?
[can you picture an adolescent moment….do you still do these things?]
And the good news is that God loves Adolescents.
God loves us when we’re trying to find our way, and spending a lot of time in a posture of rebellion along the way.
The people of God had an incredibly long adolescence in the wilderness…nearly 40 years! May we look to and lean upon each other so that ours might be a little shorter…Lord have mercy!
As we walk with Israel…in their faithfulness and their failure…let’s be honest with ourselves and let’s not lose sight of the promises and providence that lay before us…
If we peek ahead in this story, we can cling to the courage of our “go out on a limb” ancestors who press into the promises of God and declare words of hope and a future – –
In the words of Joshua, we stand strong…and firm up our resolve…
“Do not rebel! The Lord is with us…Do not be afraid.” (14:8)
And then the principal (lead) actor in our story lavishes us with generous words of promise…YHWH says:
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.
Be strong and courageous…”
It will take work, humility, generosity, forgiveness, kindness, love…
And perhaps our simple prayer might be…
Lord…Grow us up!!