Psalm 66:1–7; Numbers 7:1–35; Mark 11:12–26

Psalm 66:1–7: This joyful psalm of thanksgiving opens with the imperative, “Shout out to God, all the earth,” (1) reminding us that we are not required to be all prim and proper before God. If I really stopped for moment and reflected on what miracles God has brought to my own life—a benign enchondroma, for instance—I should stand outside and shout with the psalmist and begin singing woth the psalmist, “Hymn His name’s glory./ Make His praise glory.” (2)

And after singing his praises, my worship would continue and “Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your deeds./ Before Your great strength Your enemies quail.’” (3) In this case, it is cancer that quails. But this psalm evokes far more than personal worship. Indeed, “All the earth bows down to You,/ and they hymn to You, hymn Your name.” (4)

The psalmist invites us to see the evidence of God’s power for ourselves: “Come and see the acts of God,/ awesome in works over humankind.” (5) In other words, no matter how mighty and wonderful we think the accomplishments of human beings may be—and they are awesome indeed—God’s works are still mightier. We may be able to create exciting new technologies, and seeming medical miracles, but it is God and God alone that can rescue a human soul.

Our poet recalls both the crossing of Israel out of Egypt—”He turned the sea to dry land, ” (6a) and the crossing of the Jordan forty years later as Israel finally enters Canaan as another occasion for worship: “the torrent they crossed on foot./ There we rejoiced in him.” (6b) With the psalmist we acknowledge that it is God who rules over all the affairs not just of Israel, but of all humankind: “He rules in His might forever.” (7a) And God is much more than a benevolent uncle who makes nice things happen. Our God is aware of all that we do, and before undertaking a sinful act we would do well to remember that: “His eyes probe the nations./ Let the wayward not rise up.” (7b)

Numbers 7:1–35: As usual, the authors of Numbers feel obligated to cover ground that the authors of Leviticus have already trod. Here, we again read that the tabernacle has been completed and is ready for dedication by “the leaders of Israel, heads of their ancestral houses, the leaders of the tribes, who were over those who were enrolled, made offerings.” (2) The offerings that the leaders bring with them are indeed impressive: “six covered wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two of the leaders, and for each one an ox; they presented them before the tabernacle.” (3)

Using the usual editorial device, “the Lord said to Moses” (4), the authors demonstrate that the offerings have a very useful purpose, starting with the wagons and oxen themselves, which are handed over to the Levites. “Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the Gershonites,” (7) who are tasked with dealing with the tent canvas of the tabernacle, and the other “four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the Merarites,” (8) who are tasked with moving the bulky structural elements—tentpoles, etc.—of the tabernacle. On the other hand, the Kohathites received neither oxen nor wagon since in the relentless logic of our authors, “they were charged with the care of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulders.” (9)

Now we learn of the precise offerings that each tribal leader presents on behalf of his tribe. Each tribe is given a day of sacrifice worship at the tabernacle. Once again, as our authors would prefer, it is a very orderly affair. The offerings are noteworthy in their value, being mostly silver plates and bowls, in addition to the usual animal sacrifices:

  • The one who presented his offering the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah (12)
  • On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, presented an offering; (18)
  • On the third day Eliab son of Helon, the leader of the Zebulunites: (24)
  • On the fourth day Elizur son of Shedeur, the leader of the Reubenites: (30)

I have a feeling that tomorrow’s reading will describe the offerings of the remaining eight tribes..

Again we ask, why this detailed inventory of what each leader brought? I think that again, the authors know that God is in the details and that as the psalmist above has told us, His eyes probe the nations. In their long descriptions, the authors of Numbers keep reminding us again and again that no detail is too small for God.

Mark 11:12–26: Jesus appears to wake up in a grumpy mood. He heads from his overnight lodgings in Bethan back toward Jerusalem. Thinking he’ll have figs for breakfast, he “he came to [the fig tree, but] he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.” Mark subtly reminds us that Jesus was no farmer and he angrily curses the fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (14).

Bearing in mind that Jesus is both hungry and angry, Mark tells us, “he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.” (15) Reading this action in context, I feel we have a pretty good glimpse of the 100% human Jesus. His hunger and anger is genuine.

The priests and scribes “kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.” (18) In a clear move to remain elusive to those who would try to capture him at night in Jerusalem after the crowds have gone home, Jesus and disciples head back to Bethany for the night.

They pass the now withered fig tree, as Peter exclaims,“Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” (21) Jesus uses this as a teachable moment about the quality of faith: “believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” (23) And even more powerfully, is Jesus’ promise, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (24) Personally, I’m distressed by this saying. Can we really will the laws of physics to be broken? And if we can’t, is it really because of our inadequate faith? Obviously, no other human will have Jesus’ faith because no other human 100% divine. At the risk of being heretical, for me there has to be some hyperbole here. Yes, our faith needs to be strong enough to move mountains, but I’m going to take that statement as metaphorical rather than literal.

The more important Jesus saying is,“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (25) Here, the clear message is that we cannot really be in prayer if we are holding grudges or resentments against another person. Jesus is saying here that forgiveness must precede prayer. But again, this is a very difficult thing to do. At least for me.

 

 

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