Psalm 62; Numbers 3:1–39; Mark 10:1–12

Originally published 5/10/2016. Revised and updated 5/10/2018

Psalm 62: Two years ago when I wrote about this psalm I had just found out that the suspicious tumor in my ribs was benign. Even today, the opening verses of this David psalm resonate strongly for me:
     Only in God is my being quiet.
     From Him my rescue.
     Only He is my rock and my rescue,
     My stronghold—I shall not stumble. (2,3)

The psalmist raises his fist at enemies that would harm him, asking,
How long will you demolish a man—
commit murder, each one of you—like a leaning wall,
a shaky fence?
” (4)

The wall and fence metaphor is perfect. Enemies tend to appear strong and malevolent on the outside, but when one digs deeper it is more appearance than reality—much like the tumor that appeared malignant but was not… These enemies are like a wall without a foundation or a fence about to fall over. In the face of God’s true strength, their seeming power is only a sham, soon headed to destruction.

Our poet continues to limn the strong contrast between scheming enemies and God’s benevolent rescue. As usual, it is hypocritical speech that is their primary vehicle for working evil:
They took pleasure in lies.
With their mouths they blessed
and inwardly cursed
. (5)

This is exactly the same behavior that Jesus calls out in his many encounters with the Pharisees and scribes. He could do this because the affirmation of this psalm was his reality as the poet returns to the fact of the respite that only God can bring:
Only in God be quiet, my being
for from Him is my hope.
Only He is my rock and my rescue,
 my fortress—I shall not stumble. (6,7)

It is this unshakable assurance from which our psalmist invites others to enjoy this same stronghold of God’s rest:
Trust in Him at all times, O people.
Pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our shelter.
” (9)

The final verses of this psalm are another ecclesiastical warning not to trust in the empty words of those who would deceive us. After all human life is but a fleeting whisper:
Only breath—humankind,
the sons of man are a lie.
On the scales all together
they weigh less than a breath.
 (10)

And in realizing our ephemerality, we should respond accordingly. There may be seeming rewards for malfeasance but they are ephemeral:
Do not trust in oppression
and of theft have no illusions.
Though it bear fruit of wealth,
set your heart not upon it.
 (11)  As our poet remarks, God may have said only one thing, but there are two wonderful realities in his words:
One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that strength is but God’s
and Yours, Master, is kindness.
For You requite a man by his deeds. (13)

This is what one could call the great dichotomy: God is indeed all powerful, but he is also the source of all love. And how we behave toward others in kindness makes all the difference in the world.

Numbers 3:1–39: It’s obvious that the author or authors of Numbers are not the same as the group that wrote Leviticus. They reprise material we’ve seen before beginning by listing Aaron’s sons and then quickly noting without a backstory that “Nadab and Abihu died before theLord when they offered unholy fire before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children.” (4a). On the other hand, the good sons, “Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of their father Aaron.” (4b)

The verses that follow describe the formal charter of the tribe of Levi as priests, assisting Aaron: “ They shall perform duties for him and for the whole congregation in front of the tent of meeting, doing service at the tabernacle.” (7) Moreover, the Levites are the exclusive source of priests, as God commands Moses to “give the Levites to Aaron and his descendants; they are unreservedly given to him from among the Israelites.” (9)

What’s interesting here, is that the Levites serve as the substitute for all first born among all Israel: “I hereby accept the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn that open the womb among the Israelites.” (11) I’m presuming here that it is this idea of first born substitution which comes into play when God sacrifices his first only (and therefore first-born) son, Jesus, to atone for the sins of all humankind.

This being the book of Numbers, a census of the Levites follows. The qualification to be counted in the Levite tribe is quite different than the other tribes where only men over twenty were counted: “You shall enroll every male from a month old and upward.” (15) Even with this expanded definition, Levites comparitively few in number, totaling only 22,000. (39)

There are three tribes in the house of Levi, each consisting of several clans: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. And there’s a very precise division of duties among these three tribes.

The Gershonites camped behind the tabernacle on the west, and were the property committee, responsible for “the tent with its covering, the screen for the entrance of the tent of meeting,” (25) and all the other physical aspects of the tabernacle fabric.

The Kohathites camped on the south side of the tabernacle, and were responsible for “the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the vessels of the sanctuary with which the priests minister, and the screen—all the service pertaining to these.” (31)

The Merai clans camped on the tabernacle’s north side. They were responsible for the tabernacle structure: “the frames of the tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the bases, and all their accessories—all the service pertaining to these,” (36)

Finally, it is Aaron, Moses, their sons and their families that have the high privilege of exclusivity by camping on the eastern front side of the tabernacle.

Mark 10:1–12: We come to what in the 20th century became one of the very hard sayings of Jesus when the Pharisees, once again trying to trick Jesus, ask,Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (3a) Jesus shoots right back,  “What did Moses command you?” (3b)  They respond that the Law allows the husband to write a certificate of divorce against the woman—but apparently there’s no reciprocity here for the wife. Jesus points out that because of man’s “hardness of heart [Moses} wrote this commandment for you.” (5) In short, divorce is allowed. But divorce, and indeed if we read carefully, even single adulthood and other forms of human intertwining and consummation (and celibacy?) violate the perfection of God’s good creation: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” (6) and because there are two sexes, they are creatively designed by God to unify into a single being of two parts—just as two strands of DNA become a unified whole: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” (7, 8a) To make sure everyone understands his point Jesus repeats himself: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. (8b) There seems to be little question that in God’s order sex is between a man and woman. Only. And then the famous phrase: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (9) That is God’s clear intention. But I don’t think Jesus is saying that the violation of this command will not occur in a fallen world.

Jesus goes on to say that divorce followed by remarriage is a form of adultery because the person who divorces and remarries is acting in his own best interest, not the interests of both humans who were once a single intertwined flesh.

The way I read this passage is that marriage is the consummation of God’s perfect creation and anything less violates that perfect union. But I also see that Jesus does not expressly forbid divorce. Rather, it is an inferior form, reflecting humankind’s fallenness. I don’t think it would be a stretch to expand Jesus’s reasoning to the current brouhaha over same sex marriage and perhaps even the perversity of transgenderism. More than even divorce, these practices are signs of a fallen humanity and a full frontal societal rejection of God’s intended creation. Are these individuals to be punished? I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. Rather, they become a living reflection of our human hardness of heart. Not just of the persons involved, but indeed of all of us…

 

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