Sunday, May 19, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Numbers 25-26 and Origen's De Principiis: Preface 9-10

Numbers 25 – Israel is encamped at Shittim (at the foot of the mountains in northeaster part of Moab). And the people go immediately astray—giving themselves to debauchery with the women of Moab and worshiping their gods.  So God gets furious with them.  He tells Moses that the leaders must be “impale[d]” (Jerusalem Bible 25:4). Moses turns this task over to the judges he has appointed. 

Phineas (name of Egyptian origin, grandson of Aaron) executes judgment on an Israelite who consorts with a Midianite woman and on the women too. I wonder why Midian is a bad nation here since Moses’ married a Midianite woman. The zeal of Phineas turns away the Lord’s anger (25:10). This also reinforces the “calling” of the Levites who first won God’s favor by a similar vendetta against the idolaters in the golden calf episode, but under the leadership of a Levite from the new generation, the generation permitted to enter the Holy Land.

Numbers 26 – A second census closes out the book and also starts the section of Numbers that speaks of the transition from Moses’ leadership to Joshua’s. Moving from the rebellion narratives, a sense of order must also be reestablished in the community. The final exhortation of Moses must wait until Deuteronomy. This may be out of place, but in the New Testament, it is in John where we are given the final exhortation of Jesus, our Moses.

The purpose of this census is perhaps to assure that no one from the first census will enter the Promised Land.  The counts are: Reubenites – 43,730; Simeonites – 22,200; Gadites – 40,500; Judahites – 76,500; Issacharites – 64,300; Zebulunites – 60,500; Manassahites – 52,700; Ephraimites – 32,500; Benjaminites – 45,600; Danites – 64,400; Asherites – 53,400; Naphtalites – 45,400 (601,730 total).

Division of the land is determined partly by number and partly by lot [considered a way of determining God’s will].  The total number of male Levites over the age of one month was 23,000. In the census there “was not a man . . .who had been registered by Moses and the priest Aaron in the census of the Israelites taken in the desert of Sinai.  For the Lord had told them that they would surely die in the desert, and not one of them was left except Caleb. . . and Joshua. . .” (26:64-65).

Origen (185-254 AD)
De Principiis (First Principles)
9 – He says he will inquire into whether the term “incorporeal” is found in the Scriptures under another name; and he says, “it is also to be a subject of investigation how God himself is to be understood—whether as corporeal, and formed according to some shape, or of a different nature from bodies—a point which is not clearly indicated in our teaching. And the same inquiries have to be made regarding Christ and the Holy Spirit, as well as respecting every soul, and everything possessed of a rational nature.”

I don’t know how others feel about this attempt to approach the Scriptures and the seminal “doctrines” or principles of the Christian faith with the tools we have of reasoning and imagination. But for me, it is so similar to the way I have tried to deal with the mysteries of being human that I am in awe of what I read. He makes leaps I have trouble making but I feel him searching and trying with everything in him to comprehend “truth.” And he lived 2000 years ago.

10 – The Church does teach that there are angels with God, “good influences, which are His servants in accomplishing the salvation of men.” But what they are and how they were created is not “clearly stated” by the teachers of the Church. “Everyone, . . . must make use of elements and foundations of this sort, according to the precept, ‘Enlighten yourselves with the light of knowledge,’ if [you] desire to form a connected series and body of truths agreeably to the reason of all these things, that by clear and necessary statements he may ascertain the truth regarding each individual topic, and form, as we have said, one body of doctrine, by means of illustrations and arguments—either those which he has discovered in Holy Scripture, or which he has deduced by closely tracing out the consequences and following a correct method.”

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