Psalm 66:16–20; Numbers 7:72–8:4; Mark 12:13–17

Psalm 66:16–20: Our psalmist turns to personal testimony regarding his encounter with God: “Come listen and let me recount,/ all you who fear God,/ what he did for me.” (16) This is the first time I recall seeing such a direct statement regarding witnessing to others. To me, it means we are to tell other people of God’s actions in our own lives. God’s activity is too great to keep it to ourselves.

Our poet’s testimony is simple but affecting: “To Him with my mouth I called out,/ exaltation upon my tongue.” (17) It is a spoken prayer that occurs during worship [“exaltation upon my tongue.”] And he prays following confession, knowing that prayer with an unclean heart does not encourage God to listen to us: “Had I seen mischief in my heart,/ the Master would not have listened.” (18) To me this verse suggests that in worship each week, if we are going to have public prayers, we must first have engaged in public confession. Every time we worship. Not just during Lent.

But with his clean heart, our poet asserts happily, “God indeed has listened,/ has hearkened to the sound of my prayer.” (19) And through my personal trials of April and early May, I know with the psalmist that God has heard my prayer—and the prayers of others praying for me. It is with a joyful heart that I can sing with the psalmist, “Blessed is God,/ Who has not turned away my prayer nor His kindness from me.” (20)

Numbers 7:72–8:4: Patiently waiting in line for the past ten days, “On the eleventh day Pagiel son of Ochran, the leader of the Asherites” (72) finally gets to deliver the offering of his tribe. It is the same as the preceding ten tribes. As is our anchor man, “Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the Naphtalites,” (78) who, on the twelfth day brings completes the tribal offerings at the tabernacle.

Having sat through twelve days of identical offerings, our authors—being the accountants they are—summarize the “dedication offering for the altar, at the time when it was anointed, from the leaders of Israel,” (84)

  • 12 silver plates;
  • 12 silver basins;
  • 12 golden dishes full of incense;
  • burnt offering consisting of 12 bulls, 12 rams, 12 male one-tear old lambs (including grain);
  • 12 male goats for the sin offering;
  • well-being offering consisting of 24 bulls, 60 rams, 60 male goats, 60 male lambs a year old.

The dedicatory offering and sacrifices complete, our authors shift the POV to Moses, reminding us that  “When Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord,  he would hear the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the covenant[c] from between the two cherubim.” (89). In other words they are reassuring their readers that the twelve days of complicated sacrifices were indeed authorized by God and spoken through God’s mouthpiece, Moses.

We return to the furnishings of the tabernacle, as Moses, having received instructions from God, passes them along to Aaron. First, are “the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” (8:2) Whence the Menorah that remains a central part of Jewish worship today.

The authors also remind us of the construction of the lampstand, made “out of hammered work of gold. From its base to its flowers, it was hammered work; according to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.” (8:4)  Moses had many talents but I doubt making lampstands was one of them. However, our priestly author/ accountants are tight-fisted when it comes to giving credit to anyone outside the Moses-Aaron-Levite axis. Frankly, I much prefer the story way back in Exodus 37, where full credit is given to Bezalel in a much more believable scenario than the one here in Numbers.

Mark 12:13–17: The temple leadership knows that because of Jesus’ popularity, they cannot simply come and arrest him for high crimes and misdemeanors. So the conspire with “some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said.” (13). They come to Jesus and in possibly one of the most insincere and treacly statements in the gospels, they sidle up to Jesus and with total artifice, they fawningly state, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.” (14) They doubtless assumed that since Jesus, having just arrived at sophisticated Jerusalem from the Galilean outback and therefore they assumed him to be a country bumpkin, would be awed by their blatant obsequity.

They spring their trick question on him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?  Should we pay them, or should we not?” (15a) Jesus sees right through their ruse, telling them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” (15b) He famously asks them,“Whose head is this, and whose title?” (16) He then proceeds to give the answer that even those outside the church know quite well: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (17) Or more famously, as the King James version puts it, “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

We can only imagine the consternation of his interrogators. Mark tells us, “they were utterly amazed at him.” (17b) But I doubt this is awe-struck amazement; it is angry amazement at Jesus’ cleverness in once again escaping being trapped by his words. Earlier it was charges of blasphemy which the temple leadership failed to hang on him. This time, the Pharisees and Herodians (obviously political animals) that fail to hang the charge of sedition on him.

Jesus is not about to be trapped by his words. The conspirators will have to turn to more desperate measures to rid themselves of this very wise and very clever rabbi.

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