Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Numbers 20 and Origen's De Principiis: Preface 2-3

Numbers 20 – The people arrive at Kadesh in the desert of Zin, southwest of the Dead Sea.  Here Miriam dies. But the focus of the chapter is on another rebellion, this time over the lack of water at Kadesh. When Moses consults the Lord, He tells Moses to order water to issue from a rock to satisfy the people.  When Moses does this he strikes the rock twice and orders it to yield the promised water, saying, “Listen to me, you rebels!  Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?”  (20:10) 

Though the offense eludes me, the Lord is displeased with Moses and Aaron, in how they do what He has asked them to do. The Lord punishes Moses and Aaron by telling them they will not be permitted to enter into the Promised Land.

Now I have trouble understanding this story. Nothing Moses does or says seems to justify the anger of the Lord towards him or Aaron.  Moses, in this scene, says something and does something.  What he says is mysterious.  He sounds annoyed as well he might be.  He puts his order cryptically in the form of a question.  Is there an element of doubt that the promise will be kept?  Should he have attributed the giving of the water to the great mercy of God rather than seeming to take credit for himself and Aaron for this display of saving power?  He says nothing of God nor does he do what he usually does, namely remind the people of God’s constant care and their obligation to be faithful. 

What he does has been made much of.  He strikes the rock, not once but twice.  Presumably he could have simply ordered the rock to issue the water in God’s name.  He might have struck the rock only once.  The second blow is not emphasized at all in the account, so the idea that God was angry because he struck twice does not seem convincing to me.   Using standard character analysis to the story, I am left thinking the most offensive of the things Moses did or said in the context of the entire narrative is to omit attribution of the gift to God.  By all that he says and does in this scene, one would not guess that he is acting on the voice of God.  He seems to be acting on his own authority, forcing nature to give forth water and not in a spirit of rejoicing at the great care of God, but out of pique that one is force to put up with the never-ending complaints of these people.
Schocken’s contribution to the above mentioned issue is that it is the public nature of their failure that makes their failing serious. “The Bible consistently takes a stringent view of leadership: that leaders must be above reproach, and that they must not lose sight of the fact that it is God whom they represent” (754).
The chapter goes on with Moses’ efforts to secure permission from the Edomites to pass along what is called “the royal road” through their country (20:17). But Edom refuses to give permission.  Israel is forced to make a lengthy detour.

The chapter ends with the death of Aaron - the deaths of Moses’ sister and brother thus bracket this entire chapter.  Aaron dies at Mt. Hor (Hormah), after being stripped of his priestly garments so they can be place on his son Eleazar.  He is mourned for thirty days.  In any case the chapter also tells of the deaths of both Miriam and Aaron, so now Moses is left all alone in his great responsibility. I suppose the lesson in the story is for those in authority over the people of God.  There is a great responsibility inherent in that role.  In everything they do to advance the work of the Lord they must remember to point continually to God.  They must never pretend that salvation comes from their own efforts unsupported by the love and mercy of God.  There is no glory in serving the Lord, and the spirit of aggravation only keeps you from getting to the final goal.

Origen (185-254 AD)
De Principiis (First Principles)
2 – Origen acknowledges that many who profess to believe in Christ “differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters but also on subjects of the highest importance. . . “ –things not only related to God, or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but also things like “powers and holy virtues.” If people are thinking differently from their predecessors, it is important to resolve the teachings of the Church that have been “transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles” for they are the teachings which should be accepted as truth.

3 – “Now it taught to be known that the holy apostles, in preaching the faith of Christ, delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary to every one, even to those who seemed somewhat dull in the investigation of divine knowledge. It’s a little difficult to interpret the rest of this section, but I think he is saying that some apostles and some after them were keen in articulating how we are to understand things, others not so gifted. But he thinks the “more zealous of their successor, who should be lovers of wisdom, might have: subjects they could help elucidate in a way “to display the fruit of their talents. . .”

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