Psalm 73:21-28; Numbers 26:57-27:23; Luke 1:39-45

 Psalm 73:21-28  After descending into the valley of despair and being almost tempted to follow the way of the wicked, but then being pricked by his conscience and his long relationship with God, our psalmist turns around and ascends. Verses 21 and 22 say it all: “When my heart was embittered, / and my conscience stabbed with pain, /I was a dolt and knew nothing, / like cattle I was with You.”

How like a dolt I have been.  Extending the psalmist’s phrase, perhaps “cattle-brained” would work.  I have far too often believed that the world had much on offer that I desired. Possessions and positions and power that seemingly rendered God irrelevant.  But looking back, I see how empty that desire has been.

It’s like the old cliche about feeling abandoned by God, and when asked why only one set of footsteps were in the sand, God replies, “because I was was carrying you.”  Here, our psalmist realizes that God was indeed there all the time: “Yet I was always with You, / You grasped my right hand.” (23).  And not merely present, but God is actively intervening: “You guided me with Your counsel, / and toward glory You took me.”  Even when we may feel alone, God is still there–that still small voice of the Holy Spirit–guiding and counseling us.

We ask with the psalmist, “…and beside You whom would I want upon earth? (25)  The wealth and power of the wicked is a chimera, and “those far from You perish,” (27).  We have something far, far greater: God’s immediate and unfailing proximity that both counsels and protects: “But I—God’s closeness is good to me, I make the Master the LORD my shelter.” (28a)

Numbers 26:57-27:23  Even though Israel knew it, and we, the reader, know it, there is an emptiness, almost despair at the end of chapter 26 when this second census is completed: “there was not a man from the reckonings of Moses and Aaron the priest, who reckoned [counted] the Israelites in the Wilderness of Sinai.” (64).  Every person counted this second time was not of the first generation, “For the LORD had said of them, “They are doomed to die in the wilderness.'” (65a).

Except two: the courageous spies who delivered the minority report about their foray into Canaan so many years ago: “And no man was left of them save Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” (65b)  As always, God has made good on his word.

Even though the daughters of Zelophedad were included in the census, the males would deny them their inheritance.The daughters plea eloquently for justice: “Why should our father’s name be withdrawn from the midst of his clan because he had no son ?” (4)

Moses takes this issue to God who clarifies in great detail the rights of inheritance when a man has no sons, the daughters inherit.  (While He’s at it, the entire line of inheritance is defined.)  Once again, a clear indication for God–and now codified in the Law– women were human beings, not chattel.  How sad that so many generations have forgotten these very clear instructions.  Under God, patriarchy may not give women pride of place, but it certainly does not exclude them; they are just as valuable in God’s order of creation.  Which I think is what Paul was getting at in Ephesians 5.

God calls Moses to the top of Mount Abarim for a final look at the Promised Land, reminding Moses that for his sin at Meribah, he could not enter. There is an orderly transition of power as God identifies Joshua [“a man who has spirit within him” (27:19)] as the next leader of Israel. (Which was probably not a big surprise to Moses.) God commands Moses, “and you shall charge him before their eyes. And you shall set something of your grandeur upon him in order that all the Israelite community will heed.” (20).  We Americans tend to think we invented the orderly transition of political power.  Not really.

Joshua may Moses’ successor as leader of Israel, but he only has “something of your [Moses’] grandeur.”  And rather than speaking directly with God as Moses did, Joshua must use the high priest as an intermediary. (21)  There could only be one Moses.

 Luke 1:39-45  In one of the sweetest scenes in the Gospels, Mary visits Elizabeth.  Zecharaiah seems to be nowhere around. Luke is casting this encounter strictly as a meeting between two mothers and in a brilliant foreshadowing of events 30 years down the road, the second, if you will, meeting between John the Baptist and Jesus.

The center of this encounter is that the Holy Spirit and Jesus both present–for the first time. Spirit-filled Elizabeth exclaims those words that echo down through the centuries: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (42). Elizabeth is the first person in the Gospels to acknowledge who Mary’s son really is–the long-promised Messiah: “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (43)

Luke’s inspired brilliance as an author is so obvious here.  In just a few words, we see Elizabeth infused with the Holy Spirit and her house suffused with joy. And a blessing on Mary because (unlike Zechariah!) she “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (45)

These words work at a second level, as well.  Luke is telling us through this meeting between old Elizabeth and young Mary that this is a connection between the past and the future.  Mary, if you will, is the human bridge between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  God is fulfilling that long-ago promise to Isaiah and to Jerimaiah: “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”

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