Psalm 77:1-9; Numbers 32:28-33:9; Luke 2:33-40

Psalm 77:1-9:  God seems to be silent once again as the psalmist calls out in distress: “My voice to God—let me cry out. My voice to God—and hearken to me.” (2) He is distraught beyond measure; tears flow freely: My eye flows at night, it will not stop. I refused to be consoled.” (3) and there is no consolation.  God’s absence has robbed him of sleep: “You held open my eyelids. I throbbed and could not speak.” (5)

Memory provides scant comfort as “I ponder the days of yore, 6 the years long gone. I call to mind my song in the night.” (6) For there is no greater woe than to feel we have been abandoned by God: “Will the Master forever abandon me, 8 and never again look with favor?” (7) Then the accusations, “Has God forgotten to show grace, has He closed off in wrath His compassion?” (10) 

When we are in close relationship with God; when, as Oswald Chambers insists, we have abandoned ourselves to Christ, we feel separated and alone, there is no greater sorrow.  There is little question in my mind, and it is communicated again and again in the Psalms, that hell is not eternal punishment; it is eternal separation from God.  The psalmist evokes the agony of separation in these first verses.  Tears do not console; memory does not console.  Abandonment seems to be the only fate.  Can we be brought any lower?

Numbers 32:28-33:9:  The Reubenites and Gadites want to setts east of Jordan in the most desperate way.  And Moses promises that if they join the rest of Israel in crossing the Jordan and fight to conquer the Canaanites, that territory will be their reward.  But if not, ”they shall find holdings in your midst in the land of Canaan.” (32:31)

The Reubenites and Gadites eagerly comply and before crossing they feverishly embark on a substantial building campaign: sheep enclosures and entire towns. In addition, the sons of Machir, son of Manasseh “went to the Gilead and captured it and dispossessed the Amorite who was in it.” (32:39).  Then other sons of Manasseh capture other towns.  The towns are renamed, presumably because their names were pagan, although the authors drily note that  one of them, Nobah, actually names a town after himself.  

These all seem to be a dress rehearsal for the Canaanite battles to come.  While Numbers does not record it, we assume that the former inhabitants of these towns were wiped out completely.

Continuing its role as the enumerator of statistics and facts, Numbers lists all the stopping places of Israel during their 40-year peregrinations in the wilderness.  One wonders why this is important to the story. I think that the place names again emphasize this is actual historical record, not a fairy tale—since a million or so people wandering in the desert for 40 years could otherwise stretch credulity.  Also, it demonstrates how God is firmly entrenched in history, in real places and real times.  Unlike the pagans that surrounded them who viewed history (if they viewed it at all) as cyclical, Israel’s story—and God’s story—unrolls linearly across time.  There is a beginning and there will be an end.

God may exist outside of time, but the arrow of time is one of God’s great gifts to us: that we live in the present, in the here and now.  Yesterday is but an unalterable memory; tomorrow is no more than an estimation. Yet, we try too often to live in both when today is what life is all about. For those of us who have started our mortality in the face, today is God’s great gift.

Luke 2:33-40:  Simeon’s song has a significant effect on Mary and Joseph because this is the first time they’ve heard another human being tell them the same thing the angel said: “And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.” (33).  But Simeon also delivers less-than-wonderful news: their son would “be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  His ministry—especially his dialogs with the Pharisees— was the exemplar of Jesus’ knowing and understanding what the Pharisees and other leaders were really thinking behind their words.  But not many of us, and certainly not the Pharisees, are always happy about having our inner thoughts revealed.  What secrets we want to preserve in our hearts.  Jesus knows all of them and yet we are still loved!

Simeon’s last words to Mary point directly to the cross. Anna, permanent Temple resident, also recognizes Jesus’ unique nature and I’m sure she was great succor to Mary, especially after hearing Simeon’s final words. 

Luke, in his brief summary of Jesus’ early boyhood, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (40), at once says everything but omits so many tantalizing details we would love to know.  Luke, in his authorial wisdom, leaves out the details that could too easily be a distraction from his message of Jesus’ adult ministry.  It is sufficient that we know Jesus grew both physically and in wisdom. We must be satisfied with the little he tells us.

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