Psalm 68:7-18; 
Numbers 12:1-13:16; Mark 13:14-27

Psalm 68:7-18   This psalm of thanksgiving becomes intensely meteorological at this point, beginning with an earthquake: “The earth shook, the heavens, too, poured down before God, Sinai itself before God, God of Israel.” (8), followed by rain, “A bountiful rain You shed, O God.” (9).  And even, somewhat mystifyingly, snow, which is rare but not unknown in Israel: “When Shaddai scattered the kings there, it snowed on Zalmon.” (14)

Mixed in are geological references, “crooked-ridged mountain, Mount Bashan.” (15) which have become so due to seismic activity, “Why do you leap, O crooked-ridged mountains, the mountain God desired for His dwelling?” (16) as the psalmist looks to the heavens, “The chariots of God are myriads beyond count,”

So what does all this have to do with thanksgiving? I think this is a hymn to the glory, majesty and dynamic power of God’s creation.  God did not just create heaven and earth and then leave town.  He continues to create through the movement of the earth, the seasons, the weather, and as we have recently discovered, through the evolving, ever-changing stars, his “myriad chariots.”

God is still very much involved: not only in his larger creation, but as the psalmist observes, in our lives as lives as well: “Blessed be the Master day after day. God heaps upon us our rescue.” (19).  God doesn’t just rescue us, but “heaps upon us” our rescues again and again.  We observed at Hubcaps this morning that God’s love is not just conceptual, but active within our lives.  Something this psalmist surely knew and experienced.

Numbers 12:1-13:16  More complaining.  This time, it’s brother Aaron and sister Miriam complaining to God that their older brother Moses had taken a Cushite wife.  (Apparently there’s lots of controversy about who this wife is since Moses’ named wife, Zapporah, is from Midian, not Cush.  There’s even speculation that this wife was black.)  Interesting that Moses did not marry another Israelite.  A hint perhaps that God, who has the closest possible relationship with Moses, is truly the God of every human being, not just the tribal God of Israel.

In addition to the wife problem, Aaron and Moses are jealous of Moses rather exclusive relationship with God, “Is it but through Moses alone that the LORD has spoken? Has He not spoken through us as well?”(2)  Lesson: be careful what you say. God is listening to this complaint and immediately summons the three of them to the Tabernacle and makes his displeasure at Aaron and Miriam known immediately.

It’s a problem of humility.  Moses was “was very humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.” (3) and it’s the lack of humility on Aaron’s and Miriam’s part that angers God: “the LORD’s wrath flared against them, and He went off.” (8) (I like how God basically walks out in a huff.)  But not before Miriam was “blanched as snow.”

Aaron tries to make things right with both God and Moses, and Moses praying a lengthy prayer that among other things, includes stillbirth, that Miriam be spared.  Moses prays only a brief 5-word prayer, ““God, pray, heal her, pray.” (14)  Prayers are answered and a deal is worked out so that Miriam is banished from camp for only a week.

But the question hangs over this: why is Miriam punished but not Aaron?  Weren’t both equally guilty of pride and arrogance?  Is it because Aaron begs forgiveness and Miriam is silent (at least in this narrative).  Or does this have to do the inferior role of women, who are even more guilty than males of the effrontery of complaining to God?

In chapter 13 we come to the famous scouting expedition to Canaan.  I’m struck by the of the quality and representation of the group that will go out and scout: “one man each for his father’s tribe, every one of them a chieftain.” (13:2) As Alter notes, these are different men than those named as tribal chieftains in previous chapters. Nevertheless, these were not mere enlisted men, but senior officers.  And then Moses seems to decide at the last minute to send Joshua. Which as we will see, will have far-reaching consequences.

Mark 13:14-27  I wonder how much ink (gallons? tank cars? oceans?) and more lately, gigabytes, have been spilled speculating on exactly what, where, and when in history Jesus’ Olivet Discourse is describing.  End times aficionados believe these times are yet to come.  Others opine that it all happened when Titus conquered Jerusalem.

But the last two verses of this section, “They will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (26, 27) seem to speak pretty clearly to an event in history that has not yet occurred: Jesus’ Second Coming, which we affirm on those occasional weeks we say the Creed at worship.  (But which Lutherans and Presbyterians seem pretty loathe to sermonize about.)

Clearly, the NT writers, including Paul, felt the second coming was imminent.  Our feelings at 2000 years are more ambivalent.  This is the “Blessed Hope,” but it is still only a hope, not a reality.  We also need to remember that Jesus spent a lot more time talking about our labor within the Kingdom than he did on describing the end of history.  And thus, that is where our focus should remain.  Although I wouldn’t mind hearing a sermon about this…

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