Thursday, May 9, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Numbers 12-13 and Irenaeus Selections: Redemption and the World to Come

Numbers 12 – Miriam and Aaron both complain to Moses of his marriage to Zipporah, whom they consider a “despised foreigner.”

But the complaint is a pretext for their jealousy of him. “The complained, ‘Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks?  Does he not speak through us also?’” (12:2) The Lord orders the three of them to come out to the meeting tent where he has this to say: “Should there be a prophet among you, in visions will I reveal myself to him, in dreams will I speak to him; Not so with my servant Moses! Throughout my house he bears my trust: face to face I speak to him, plainly and not in riddles.  The presence of the Lord he beholds.  Why, then, did you not fear to speak against my servant Moses?” (12:6-8)

The result of it is that Miriam is afflicted with a skin disease (leprosy?) for seven days (as a result of Moses’ supplication to God to go easy on her).  God compares what he did to a father spitting in the face of a daughter—that it brings her shame that would last for a week at least (12:14).

In this interesting chapter, we see Moses’ brother and sister jealous of Moses’ intimacy with the Lord and wishing to assert their own “right” to be intermediaries between God and he people.  Schocken editors suggest this might have been inspired by the coming of the spirit on the elders in the previous chapter. How many times in the history of God’s people have people had this competitive spirit that makes them say “Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks?  Does he not speak through us also?” 

So it is that even those who have every reason to know and appreciate the gifts of those who seem especially called to help us know and understand God’s will, choose to challenge God’s own call by asserting their right to be treated as equals.   I guess people have always had trouble with leadership.  But God does not totally reject their assertion.  He simply maintains that Moses sees the Lord and his will more clearly.  The lovely sentence, “Now, Moses himself was by far the meekest man on the face of the earth” seems to negate any thought we might entertain that Moses sought some kind of personal authority to exalt himself.   Miriam is further punished by a week-long episode of a leprosy-like condition, but then we hear no more of this family strife among the three. 

Certainly it must not have been easy to be the sibling of Moses.  From his childhood he seemed to have been chosen for God’s special favor.  Miriam, who must have been seven or eight years his senior, stood beside the basket as it drifted along the shore near the dwelling of the Pharaoh, so she could be there when the little bundle was discovered.   It was her suggestion that reunited the baby with its mother and permitted the family to rest assured that Moses would escape the fate assigned to all the other little Hebrew boys.  And later Moses looked to Aaron to help him speak to the Pharaoh, so shy or hesitant was he in delivering God’s message to the mighty one.  Certainly they who were most likely to know the frailties and humanity of God’s prophet were also the most likely to wonder why he should be given so much authority in the gathering of God’s people.  They understood that in a human sense there was little distance between them and him.  They were therefore most likely to wonder why God’s wisdom and authority were present in him in such a large measure.

Numbers 13 - Moses sends out scouts from the tribes to ascertain the strength and character of the inhabitants of the Promised Land.  Hoshea, son of Nun of the tribe of Ephraim, Moses’ own household, is called Joshua by Moses. 

They reconnoiter the land for 40 days and find the land to be all that God promised, but the word that the inhabitants are fierce and the towns fortified, is not received well and some try to exaggerate the Israelites disadvantages so as to discourage the people and create ill-feeling towards Moses.  So Moses faces rebellion not only from his family but from some of the leaders of the tribes.

Irenaeus of Lyons (c.180 AD)
Selections from the Work Against Heresies
Book V – Redemption and the World to Come
Doctrine of Redemption in Reply to the Gnostics
1 – “We could in no other way have learned the things of God unless our Teacher, being the Word, had been made man. For none could declare to us the things of the Father, except his own Word. For who else has known the mind of the Lord, or who has become his counselor? Nor again could we have learned in any other way than by seeing our Teacher, that we might become imitators of his works and doers of his words, and so have communion with him, receiving our increase from him who is perfect and before all creation.”

He is the “true man” – “redeeming us by his blood in accordance with his reasonable [Logos-like] nature, he gave himself a ransom for those who had been led into captivity. Since the apostasy tyrannized over us unjustly, and when we belonged by nature to God Almighty had unnaturally alienated us, God’s Word, mighty in all things, [reclaimed us], making us his own disciples.”

“[H]e acted justly against the apostasy itself, not redeeming his own from it by force, although it at the beginning had merely tyrannized over us, greedily seizing the things that were not its own, but by persuasion, as it is fitting for God to receive what he wishes by gentleness and not by force.” This is pretty amazing language, language brought to us in the 20th century by men like Gandhi and M.L. King, Jr.

“So, then, since the Lord redeemed us by his own blood, and gave his soul for our souls, and his flesh for our bodies, and poured out the Spirit of the Father to bring about the union and communion of God and man—bring God down to men by [the working of] the Spirit, and again raising man to God by his incarnation—and by his coming firmly and truly giving us incorruption, by our communion with God, all the teachings of the heretics are destroyed.”

“These things did not take place fictitiously but in reality.” “He would not have had real flesh and blood, by which he paid the price [of our salvation], unless he had indeed recapitulated in himself the ancient making of Adam.” This puts to rest some of the assertions of Valentinus.

The Ebionites, “who do not accept in their souls by faith the union of God and man; but remain in the old leaven of [merely] human birth—not wishing to understand that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her, and so what was born [of her] is holy and the Son of God Most High, the Father of all who thus brought about his incarnation and displayed the new birth, so that as we by the former birth were heirs of death, by this birth we should be heirs of life.”

Ebionites were a Jewish-Christian sect that regarded Jesus as the Messiah but thought they had to retain the Jewish law and rites, They looked to a separate Gospel, which is cited by other writers but has disappeared. It was said to be similar to Matthew’s Gospel but rejected the Virgin Birth.

“”They do not reflect that as at the beginning of our creation in Adam the breath of life from God, united with the created substance, animated man and made him a rational animal, so at the end of the Word of the Father and the Spirit of God, united with the ancient substance of the creation of Adam, made a living and perfect man, receiving the perfect Father, so that as in the animal we were all dead, in the spiritual we are all made alive. For Adam never escaped those hands of God, to whom the Father said, ‘Let us make man after our image and likeness.’ “

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