Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Numbers 9-10 and Irenaeus' Work Against Heresies: The Apostolic Tradition

Numbers 9 – The second Passover is celebrated and Moses, after consulting with the Lord, decides that uncleanness due to contact with the dead or absence on a journey will not totally prevent celebration of the holiday, but it will need to be celebrated in the second month, fourteenth day—not the first month.

The Israelites have been organized into the various offices, both military and religious that will characterize it during the time in the desert.  We see in this chapter the importance of the cloud, called a fiery cloud in directing the movements of the Israelites during their time in the desert.  The presence of the Lord for the community as a whole is made known by the presence of this fiery cloud.  The cloud comes and goes.  When it hovers over the Dwelling, the Israelites are to stay.  When it departs, the camp is to be broken and moved.  There are times when the cloud lingers over the Dwelling for days or months, and times when it lingers only for the night.  In this way the Israelites make their way around the desert and finally to the Promised Land.  The critical thing is that whether we are speaking of the leadership or of the community as a whole, the delivered people stay close to the presence of the Lord and are directed by Him in all things.  The Lord comes through the voice and through the cloud.  

It is interesting to think that the cloud of the presence may also reappear in the New Testament stories of the ascension of our Lord.  In the tradition of the church also, Mary was said to be taken up into heaven on a cloud and the Lord is believed to destined to return to us on the clouds (Matt.24: 30).

Numbers 10 – Two silver trumpets are made to be used in gathering the community—one for everyone, two for just the leaders.  When there is a signal of alarm the order of march will be as follows:  first the east side of the camp, then the south, then the west and lastly the north. They shall also have a role in signaling the start of celebrations and festivals (10:10).

The narrative continues—second year, twentieth day—the cloud rose and they set out until “the cloud came to rest in the desert of Paran” (10:12). Moses’ brother-in-law, Hobab—brother of Zipporah—is the guide; they are in the region north-west of Midian. Moses begs him to come with them since he knows the region so well, but at first he says he doesn’t want to.  Moses persists though and chances are he did go with them. (10:29-32).

Moses says, when they set out: “Arise, O Lord, [Schocken translates this, “Arise to attack, O YHWH”] that your enemies may be scattered, and those who hate you may fee before you.” And when they stop, he says, “Return, O Lord, you who ride upon the clouds, to the troops of Israel” (10:35-36).

Irenaeus of Lyons (c.180 AD)
Selections from the Work Against Heresies
Book III – The Faith in Scripture and Tradition
The Apostolic Tradition
11 – John, the Lord’s disciple, proclaimed the faith and “wished by the proclamation of the gospel to destroy the error which had been planted among men by Cerinthus, and much earlier by those who are called Nicolaitans.”

“It is not true, as they say, that the Fashioner is one and the Father of the Lord another, and the Son of the Fashioner one being, the Christ form on high another, who remained free from suffering, descending on Jesus the Son of the Fashioner and returning again to his Pleroma; [they allege] that the Beginning was the Only-begotten, and Logos the true Son of the Only-begotten, and that this world order in which we live was not made by the supreme God but by some power fare inferior to him and cut off from contact with those things which are invisible and ineffable.”

“The disciple of the Lord [John] wished to cut off all such ideas and to establish the rule of truth in the Church, that there is one God Almighty who made all things by his Word, both visible and invisible, and also to indicate that through the same Word through whom God made this world order he also bestowed salvation on the men who belong to this order.” And so he starts his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God; this was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made . . .” The word “All” in this preface includes this physical world we live in, not just the Pleroma they talk about.

“John himself indeed takes away all our disputes on this matter when he says; ‘He was in this world, and the world was made by him, and the world know him not.’”

“According the some of the Gnostics, this world was made by angels and not through the Word of God. According to the followers of Valentinus again, it was not made through him, but through the Demiurge.” They insist that the Word/Christ “never came into this world, and that the Savior was neither incarnate nore suffered, but that he descended as a dove upon that Jesus who was made by [higher] dispensation, and when he had proclaimed the unknown Father, ascended again into the Pleroma.”

The wine that was made from water in Jesus’ first miracle at Cana was also real and physical. And though “the Lord could have provided wine for the feasters and satisfied the hungry with food without using any object of the created order, he did not do so; but taking loaves which came from the earth, and giving thanks, and again making water into wine, he satisfied those who lay down to eat, and he gave drink to those who were invited to the wedding.” In these times too, “his Son gives to the human race the blessing of food and the favor of drink [in the Eucharist], the incomprehensible [acting] through the comprehensible and the invisible through the visible, since there is none beyond him, but he is in the bosom of the Father.” 

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